Fearful, sad and shocked in Gaza

“‘Fearful, sad and shocked,’ this is how I feel right now,” says Ahmad Najjar. Luckily, we received two shipments of PPE shortly before the outbreak in Gaza.

Ahmad Najjar
Ahmad Najjar, Anera’s medical donations program coordinator in Gaza

An interview with Ahmad Najjar, Anera’s medical donations program coordinator in Gaza

I was shocked when I heard about the discovery of the first four cases of COVID-19 in the community in Gaza. I thought that the siege imposed on Gaza protected us from the virus. Since March, all those entering or returning to Gaza (the two crossings are at Rafah and Erez) have been required to enter into quarantine for 21 days. But despite these precautionary measures, now it has invaded the community.

These developments are particularly disturbing because the virus is attacking and threatening people who already suffer from very difficult living conditions and live under a prolonged siege affecting all aspects of life (economic, social, health, food and movement). The pandemic will increase the burden on those poor families who are not able to buy food or medicine for their families. What will day laborers do if this lock-down is imposed for much longer. How will they cope with losing their only source of income?

I fear for the future now that the virus has invaded the community. Even the richest and most advanced countries have failed to overcome the virus, so what hope do we in Gaza have? It feels like we are passing through a dark tunnel without knowing our destiny.

What makes Gaza vulnerable?

Before the community spread of COVID-19 here, the poverty rate was about 70 percent and most people depend on relief programs to keep their pantries stocked with food. Now with the curfew imposed for 22 days now and with no end in sight, a lot of day laborers are losing their jobs. So food insecurity is worse than ever and many may lack even the ability to buy PPE and soap to protect their families. Also the electricity cut offs for more than 16 hours a day, making the hot weather unbearable and affecting our ability to access water, which is crucial for hygiene.

How is the medical donations program operating right now?

Fortunately, a few days before the announcement of the discovery of the first four cases inside the community in Gaza and the imposition of a strict lock-down, we had received two shipments containing crucial medicines and PPE useful for managing the spread of COVID-19.

The first was a Direct Relief shipment of five pallets which contained intensive care medicines used in medical care for COVID-19 patients and PPE like N-95 face masks, face shields, gloves, medical gowns, safety goggles, etc.

The second was an Anera-purchased PPE shipment from China, which contained almost 49,000 pieces of KN-95 face masks, gloves and 3-ply face masks.

Anera moved quickly to distribute these shipments to clinics and hospitals suffering from serious deficiencies of PPE, especially gloves, gowns and face masks. Seeing the need motivated us in the medical donations team to work hard to distribute those shipments during the lock-down, which has continued for 22 days now.

What are the challenges you face on a daily basis?

I live 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Anera’s distribution center in Gaza City. To reach the distribution center now during the lock-down I need to pass through ten police checkpoints. Movement is restricted, except for medical staff with special permits. Luckily our medical donations team members have been able to obtain this permit because of the important work we have to do at this time. 

We need to interact frequently with medical staff and recipients. It is not easy to work when you don’t know if someone you are interacting with may be infected, so it makes me extra careful.

When I come back home and my children hurry to hug me, I am careful not to let them touch me or my clothes until I am able to clean up. I salute all medical staff who are working day and night without seeing their families. 

Another issue is that I have to field a lot of calls from people in need looking for sanitizer and other PPE and medicines.

What does your typical work day look like now?

I am focused now on ensuring that each shipment we receive supports our recipients as effectively as possible. I check in with our partners and recipients daily about their needs and operations in this exceptional situation. 

We receive shipments at all hours – sometimes we have some pretty late nights. First, we disinfect the shipment. Then we inventory the shipment contents and make sure that it matches the order list. We contact the hospitals and clinics to arrange for them to pick up their alloted boxes of medicine. The shipment is distributed based on the need in each facility. I would normally conduct site visits to the medical centers as follow-up, but right now my movements and interactions are kept to only the most essential.

What motivates you?

Helping our community get through this is all the motivation I need. We see poor families asking for help who are unable to obtain food or PPE. How could I not do everything I can to help them? It is a privilege to support our colleagues – the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other medical professionals – on the front lines who are working around the clock to care for COVID-19 patients and are struggling to control the outbreak.

Any final thoughts?

Gaza needs more support in all aspects of life as the needs are rapidly growing. Poor families are getting poorer and all residents are at risk. I hope the world doesn’t leave Gaza alone.

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