BUILDx: How is Palestine Dealing with Coronavirus

(Photo Credit: Mahmud Hams / AFP/ Getty Images)

For the first time in our lives there is no news other than those related to Coronavirus or COVID-19. We’ve never witnessed our modern world come to a halt the way it has in the past couple of months. For our first BUILDx event of the year, we dedicated the session to talk about the one thing that caused the entire world to unite against this unforeseen disease. We hosted three Palestinian inspiring experts in their fields: Dr. Zeina Siam - post-doctoral fellow at Harvard Chan School of Public Health, D. Abdelrahman Ahmed- Founder of Tebfact, and Dr. Randa Zaqqout- Field Family Health officer at UNRWA-Gaza field office.

What do we know about COVID-19?

We kicked the session by talking about some imperative realities about COVID-19 and how the universe is handling this global pandemic. Dr, Zeina Siam enriched the talk by highlighting some important facts about this global pandemic, she also affirmed the fact that what we do not know about this new virus is much more than what is known. Due to this vagueness, it is vital for both individuals and health departments to invest their maximum efforts to stop this virus. We also have to understand that our healthcare systems have limited resources, and that beside COVID-19 there are other patients who need urgent healthcare; that is why our role as individuals makes all the difference. We are the reason this virus is spreading as we are the passengers, but we are also the ones who can stop it from continuing to spread. Governments and health care professionals around the world are asking the public to do one main activity: to stay at home. 

It's true then, the world is really a small village.

Globalization has an enormous effect on contagious diseases in general. The world is becoming smaller by the day and billions of people are constantly on the move. This ease of transportation has caused this virus to spread to the whole world more easily than ever compared to previous fatal diseases. At the same time, Dr. Siam indicated that globalization can help alleviate the effects of coronavirus, with countries coming together to aid each other during this global pandemic. We’ve seen doctors from Cuba land in Spain, and doctors from China in Italy, to help the two COVID-19 epicenters in Europe. Universal communication has also made it possible for research centers around the world to work together by exchanging the findings and experiences of various countries making it easier to gather more information and statistics about COVID-19. These collaborative efforts are bringing the world  closer to finding a cure or a vaccine for this virus.

No, these Memes are not always funny!

You must have noticed too the number of memes on Instagram and Facebook talking about coronavirus, these memes could be underestimating the virus or are spreading panic by mentioning inaccurate statistics or facts. It might be funny, but the consequences are threatening. People are battling on social media websites to share “breaking news” and “you won’t believe this” posts without checking the resource of their information, causing hundreds, thousands, and more to panic or on the contrary to neglect all the directions  and eventually waste all other people’s time and effort.

Palestine and COVID-19

Palestine has been one of the earliest countries to take preventive measures in attempt to control this virus. The government has announced mandatory quarantine on all individuals and announced an emergency situation. Gaza as well has put 17,000 individuals under mandatory quarantine.

Dr. Randa Zaqout put us in perspective by addressing how UNRWA is dealing with this crisis in Gaza. As Gaza is being an idol in dealing with this emergency, starting from preparing the hospitals with all needed tools and training to dealing with both potential and affirmed cases. It has also encouraged people to stay home by activating a hotline to make communication better and to reduce the movement of infected cases.

Direct communication with the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization is also nonstop, and constant training is being provided to both medical and non-medical staff. This collaborative effort guarantees all health centers to be qualified and capable of dealing with COVID-19 and that information is being shared transparently across Palestine.

How else can we help?

The majority of the Palestinian organizations have adjusted their strategies to cope with the situation, providing the maximum support to the community in this difficult period. Globally, a rising number of funding opportunities are being given to researchers and entrepreneurs to invest their intellectual abilities and innovation to find solutions and come up with studies about this pandemic. So, you know this now, it is your time to invest your capabilities and be innovative!

Heard of Tebfact?

Dr. AbdelRahman Ahmed, Founder of Tebfact is one pioneer to look up to. Tebfact came to find a solution for the wide spread of false medical information and advice. It’s an app that allows us to get trusted scientific medical facts in addition to the ability to get consultation from doctors available online. What is even cooler is that the content is fully in Arabic making it even easier for everybody to understand and communicate.

This app has massively assisted in containing the virus starting in Gaza and now expanding across Palestine and reaching Arabs worldwide. It made it easier for people having some symptoms and are not sure whether they are infected or not to use the online consultation, minimizing the risk of the virus spreading. They are also studying the ability to provide awareness campaigns and psychological support for children as a result of the quarantine.

We got inspired!

The most innovative ideas arise when it is provoked by deep need for it, we got ourselves some truly impressive initiatives in Gaza. Sunbox has found a life-changing solution for the electricity crisis especially with the need to work online nowadays. Sunbox provides effective solar systems with the ability to share the system between multiple families, making this the optimal solution for the long hours of electricity cuts. Another start-up in Gaza took the initiative to get the groceries to your front door while also making sure that it's sanitized and germ-free. 3d printing is also being put in use, with the global shortage in facemasks and other products that would assist in this crisis. Tashkeel3D is one startup in Gaza currently working to create medical apparatus necessary for treatment. Finally, a groundbreaking program developed by Dr. Nael Kataketa uses artificial intelligence to diagnose COVID-19 using X-rays making it easier to differentiate it from other seasonal flues.

Final Words

One thing we now know for sure is how big our personal behavior is affecting the whole globe. We can start with ourselves, stay at home, make sure to read more and do not get affected by what is being shared on social media websites. Stay positive, and don't forget to take care of your mental health as well. Try to invest your time and recharge through this break, this is the best thing you can do!

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Rafeef Quzmar is a an intern at BuildPalestine, a senior business student at Birzeit University and a former exchange student of Philipps University. She pursues her passion through volunteering in youth empowerment programs and is plainly dedicated to achieving social change.