A Visionary Program for Palestinian Children
TPRF funds eye-care clinics in the Occupied Palestinian Territory
In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), Dr. Humam Rishmawi and Dr. Bashir Shaheen spend their days operating on children with congenital eye diseases, giving them a chance for a better start in life. They are the only two of 144 ophthalmologists qualified for pediatric surgery. Both work for the St John Eye Hospital Group (SJJEH), which has been providing eye care in the area since 1882.For the fourth year TPRF is partnering with SJJEH, providing $30,000 to help fund eye care for indigent patients.
Over the past decade the population of the OPT has swelled to just over four million—more than half of whom are under the age of 18. Crowded conditions and immobility have encouraged the widespread Middle Eastern custom of marriages between close relatives such as first cousins. The children of such marriages are prone to congenital abnormalities to which the eye is particularly susceptible.
For the children affected there's a social cost as well. In their culture obvious eye defects are stigmatized, so their parents keep them hidden at home instead of sending them to school.
"Eighty percent of those treated at our Orthoptic Department in Jerusalem, which deals with congenital conditions such as amblyopia (lazy eye), defective binocular vision and diplopia (double vision), are under 18," says Rod Bull, SJJEH's CEO.
Although the people of the OPT have a rate of blindness ten times higher than the West, 80% of blindness is preventable if these conditions are treated at the appropriate time in a child's development. However, according to Mr. Bull, "Ongoing hostilities obstruct the provision and development of a system of public services—including vital health services—and precipitate the need for humanitarian assistance."
SJJEH has set a goal to eliminate preventable blindness throughout the OPT, a World Health Organization objective. As a non-partisan, peace-oriented organization, it treats patients regardless of ethnicity, religion, or ability to pay.
In addition to its main hospital in East Jerusalem, the nonprofit runs two satellite clinics in the West Bank and pediatric eye clinics in satellite centers in Hebron, Anabta, and Gaza. Its Mobile Outreach teams diagnose, treat, and educate patients in remote areas. Last year, Mr. Bull says, more than 107,000 patients were treated, nearly 36,000 of them children.
Looking to the future, the charity also operates a four-year Medical Residency Training Program for local ophthalmologists that is recognized by the Palestinian and Jordanian Boards of Ophthalmology. "In training local people," Mr. Bull says, "we invest in the region and help to rebuild its fractured infrastructure."
Photo credits: Jerusalem Hospital by Steve Sabella