In May 2020, in preparation for COVID-19 outbreaks among the Palestinian community in Lebanon, UNRWA established a ninety-six bed Quarantine and Isolation Centre at the Agency’s Technical and Vocational Education Training Centre in Siblin (STC), in partnership with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The Centre was established to cater for people who may have been infected or positive patients who exhibit mild symptoms and who cannot quarantine or isolate themselves in their homes due to overcrowding.
For the Palestine refugee community in Lebanon, overcrowding in homes and camps poses a significant challenge to those needing to home-quarantine and protect their communities from the spread of the virus. Muhammad, a Palestine refugee from Lebanon, was isolated with his daughter at hospital for thirteen days, during which time, his other two daughters at home also started exhibiting symptoms and began self-isolating. Muhammad describes this experience for him: “It was a very difficult period for me in hospital because you couldn’t see anything outside and you couldn’t move from the room, but after thirteen days in hospital they moved us to Siblin Isolation Centre. At Siblin, it was very different, we could go to the garden in the centre and the team gave us a lot of support, and if I asked for anything they would do it straight away.” Siblin Training Centre’s location on a vast green hilly area overlooking the sea makes it a pleasant and environmentally healthy place to host people in quarantine or patients while recovering.
The transformation of part of the STC from a place of education to a medical facility was undertaken in full compliance with World Health Organization guidelines, and made possible due to generous funding from Agence Française de Développement (AFD). With AFD funding, two dormitories, previously used by students, were modified and partitions installed to provide privacy for patients. Toilets and shower units were also rehabilitated, and laundry and refectory areas were re-adapted to meet the new needs of the centre. The fenced outdoor garden area, recalled by Muhammad, was also established in addition to two separate storage rooms for solid waste.
MSF provided the medical expertise and advised on the site layout to ensure the centre met all the necessary and logistical requirements. They also provided comprehensive training to UNRWA staff on infection prevention and control measures. The trained UNRWA staff undertake the necessary support works in the centre such as laundry, meals and cleaning, while MSF support the management of the STC facility by ensuring the proper monitoring of cases and the timely referral of complicated cases.
Hassan, a Palestine refugee from Al Nahmeh area was a patient at the Siblin Isolation Centre. He recalls how he began to feel tired at work before going to the hospital to be tested. Living with his wife and three children, Hassan says, “I felt great relief when I knew that I was going to Siblin centre, with good conditions and excellent staff, who work day and night for our comfort.”
“The Siblin Centre is very important for us, because there are no private hospitals for Palestinians. UNRWA has provided us with comfort, medical and psychological assistance, and constant follow-up,” says Hassan.
Suleiman, a Palestine refugee from Mieh Mieh camp in Lebanon has been working at Siblin Training Centre for 37 years. He has been proud to serve his community at Siblin in support of their education and now their health. “When I heard about the transformation of part of Siblin into an Isolation Centre and the need for volunteers, I applied quickly. I felt it’s our duty to serve our people, but now [they are] patients, not students. In addition, it will make me even more proud to serve my people to tackle the pandemic.” Some of my family members were afraid of this new task. But when I explained to them what kind of service we are providing they became proud of what I am doing. I received training and I am equipped with PPE and make all efforts to protect myself and my family while undertaking this service.
Nearly a year after the outbreak of the virus in Lebanon, the number of daily cases is spiking. As an ex-patient of STC and survivor of COVID-19, Muhammad wanted to share a message with his community: “For Palestinians, it is very important that we have more centres like Siblin, and I want to tell my community, my family and friends that this virus is very serious, so please be careful and stay home.”