Palestine Refugee Agency Adopts Emergency Plan to Respond to COVID-19 Outbreaks

Palestine Refugee Agency Adopts Emergency Plan to Respond to COVID-19 Outbreaks

UNRWA has developed an Agency-wide COVID-19 Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan. This plan is based on WHO guidelines. UNRWA Photo

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has developed an emergency plan to respond to the swift-paced propagation of the Coronavirus, dubbed by the World Health Organization (WHO) a global pandemic.

The plan is entitled “Agency-wide COVID-19 Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan”. It is based on WHO guidelines. It defines eight priority steps and actions.

UNRWA said the plan comes after COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in three fields: Lebanon, West Bank and Jordan. As of 11 March 2020, the number of confirmed cases and deaths are: 61 and 2 in Lebanon, 30 and 0 in West Bank, and 1 and 0 in Jordan. Local transmission has been reported by WHO in Lebanon and West Bank. To date, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Palestine Refugees. 

Actions taken, relevant to UNRWA operations and services, are based on coordination for planning and monitoring. A COVID-19 coordination body has been established at UNRWA HQ, representing health, human resources, planning, communication, administration and procurement, as well as travel, security and the staff union. This body will guide UNRWA’s overall coordination of the Agencywide response to COVID-19.

The UNRWA departments of health, planning and human resources are also working with the communications division to streamline and disseminate COVID-19 related messages to all staff and refugees. A sitrep is issued daily, a human resources intranet page has been developed, and facebook is being actively utilized.

At the same time, UNRWA health services, which are integral parts of the health system in all Agency fields of operation and work very closely with host governments’ health systems, are working to identify those with respiratory symptoms, and refer, when identified, potential COVID-19 suspected cases to governmental health institutions where isolation, diagnosis and treatment take place. UNRWA clinics have introduced triage systems and protocols.

Detailed technical guides on ICP and case management are included in the response plan and needs for equipment and medical consumables such as personal protective equipment (PPE).

Based on the defined needs for ICP and other supplies, UNRWA’s fields of operation have begun sourcing. Existing Programme Budget (PB) funding is being utilized to jump-start the procurement. However, these needs are additional to regular PB budget, and will begin to impact on cash flows in the near future, added UNRWA.

At field level, UNRWA offices are also developing strategies and arrangements to ensure continuity of critical services such as health, education (e.g. through the Education in Emergencies strategies), sanitation in camps and relief, depending on the situation.

At the time of writing, the surge in the number of cases and in the number of affected countries is continuing, including in the Middle East, increasing concerns on the capacity of national health systems to respond and provide the necessary care, in particular in countries with weaker health systems. UNRWA is thus working very closely with WHO and international partners to scale up prevention and early detection of suspected COVID-19 cases.

Closure of schools in Lebanon and Palestine is the major impact of COVID-19 to date. The Governments of Lebanon and Palestine announced closure of schools, and UNRWA has done the same. UNRWA continues to follow national guidelines and responses. Government’s strict control on borders and movements has also affected UNRWA’s operation.

The agency raised concerns over risks to disruption of food distribution, particularly in Gaza (to 1m people), given the guidance on large gatherings, and in the West Bank (37k Bedouin / herders), due to closures.

The Agency is looking at risk mitigation approaches to enable its relief programs to continue. The Agency is particularly concerned about the prospects in Gaza for dramatic rates of infection and their consequences due to severe movement restrictions and lacking capacity to cope.

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