Augusta Victoria Hospital: a sign of hope

[Sunday, January 10]

Augusta Victoria Hospital is truly a sign of hope amidst a complicated and frustrating political and social environment. Dr. Tawfiq Nasser and his staff are providing highly specialized treatment to Palestinian refugees and others in need while facing logistical challenges unknown to comparable facilities in Canada.

Just getting to AVH as a patient or staff member through security checkpoints and around physical barriers is a demanding job. AVH has initiated a bussing program to make sure that those who need urgent medical treatment such as radiation therapy or children’s dialysis are not denied relief.

For the nearly 3.5 million Palestinians living in the region, daily life is constantly challenged by military occupation and political realities that require the hospital to purposefully highlight the necessity of human rights. The aim is to alleviate suffering and to advocate for peace and justice. This way, marginalized groups can be empowered through access to health and human services.

There is only one radiation therapy machine available to the Palestinian people and that is housed at AVH. The population should have at least five or six. Construction is now underway to house a second unit and permission is being sought from Israeli authorities to proceed.

Women with cancer are only one example of the marginalized people who seek AVH assistance when dealing with the social ramifications of this disease. Rather than receiving support from the community, many women are often neglected because of the social stigma surrounding breast cancer. AVH’s rights based approach empowers them to challenge cultural norms and uphold their rights and the rights of children afflicted with such severe conditions.

Canadian Lutheran World Relief Global Encounter participants received a comprehensive tour of the hospital and its facilities from Dr. Nasser. We saw the treatment facilities and various wards and witnessed all five paediatric dialysis beds in use by Palestinian children. They learned that this treatment is provided to children as young as five months old. We saw the radiation equipment and the diabetes ward and visited with some of the 220 staff members.

Of particular interest was the “Canadian Wing”. This is a 25 bed geriatric care ward provided by CIDA through the efforts of CLWR. The specialized care from nurses trained in this specialty brings relief and hope to 25 families. Plans are underway to secure funding for a separate elder care facility that will provide care to at least 90 or more people.

Care at AVH is not limited to the physical needs of its patients. A psycho-social care center offers counselling and support for patients and their families with a particular focus on women and children. The department also plays a large role in advocating for patients’ rights by managing the AVH bussing program and the housing program for Gaza patients.

–Tom Brook

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