By EA Rosemary
Dr Shatha sits behind the desk and opens the record book. She places the stethoscope around her neck and waits for her first patient. Trained in Egypt on a top scholarship, she is working as a GP for the Palestinian Medical Relief Society. Today she is in Tarrama, a small village some 12km south west of Hebron.
Dr Shatha and her two male colleagues – a nurse and a technician – have been driven from Hebron in the mobile clinic.
A colleague of Dr Shatha at work. Photo: EAPPI
Boxes of equipment, files and medication have been unloaded into rooms under the mosque. It’s a simple space, with a reception room that doubles as a pharmacy and two consulting rooms. Only one has a couch and a folding screen.
Women’s health in Hebron
The first patient arrives. A young woman, she is soon in deep conversation with Dr Shatha. She has vaginitis and is complaining of itching and discharge.
The mobile clinic. Photo: EAPPI
The women of Tarrama appreciate having a female doctor. For many girls their only dream is of marriage and children. One 16-year-old from another community, due to marry later in the year, was looking forward to having six boys and six girls.
Dr Shatha uses every opportunity to provide reproductive health education.
Life for these women is hard. As another doctor, Dr Melham says, “The women work for their children, their husband, their home, their land and may even have paid work outside the home. There is no time for themselves.”
Disparities in health care
The second patient was a woman of 50. She was limping and her left knee was swollen. Following examination, she was referred to a specialist for an x-ray and a possible knee replacement. Two years ago her right knee had been replaced. She’d waited just five months before an operation in Ramallah and was keen for her second leg to become pain free.
This service is at odds with other areas of health provision. The next patient, Ansef, brings her four-year-old son, Tariq. He cannot speak. It appears that she can only be referred for a private consultation as there are few ear, nose and throat specialists in Palestine. She is later told, however, that there is a weekly clinic that she can attend.
A family in a rural community. Photo: EAPPI
In many rural communities a mobile clinic visits once a week. No appointment is necessary and no one is turned away. But no-one is ill or injured to a timetable. If an accident happens on a non-clinic day, patients are dependent on friends with vehicles as few taxi drivers will venture out on the rough roads.
Dr Shatha is an impressive young woman. “There is a deficiency of everything” she says as she reflects on life in Palestine. She herself is a refugee. Her family were forced from their land in Beit Etab in 1948 and made their home in Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem. The tents there are long gone, replaced by more substantial houses. They lie cheek by jowl, with no space for gardens and no recreation grounds. The inside of the homes are beautiful, but it is very hard to grow up in a place with such austere buildings and no playing fields – no green anywhere.
A mobile clinic in the West Bank. Photo: EAPPI
The entrance to Bethlehem’s other refugee camp, Aida, is through a high arch, topped by a very large key. This is symbolic of one of the few possessions that many refugees came with, expecting to be able to return to their homes. It’s an image that Dr Shatha uses as she reflects on the occupation: “They shoot, arrest, kill, prevent access to water. They put us in big prisons and keep the key.”
Dr Shatha is a passionate, talented young doctor. She is 27, and many of her friends are married. Of her future marriage prospects she says: “I’m beautiful, I am educated and I’m a strong woman. I’m overqualified!”
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