[Dateline: Gaza | Author: UNRWA]
In the Gaza Strip, around 4,000 to 6,000 school children are diagnosed with eye problems each year. Normally, due to financial problems, only half of them are able to receive glasses.
This year the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), as part of the Excellent Health Services Initiative (EHSI), has allocated $170,000 to cover the costs of the required number of glasses for school children. This sum will be enough to provide glasses for all those children diagnosed this year, in addition to those diagnosed last year who were unable to afford them.
In total, over 10,000 UNRWA students in the Gaza Strip with sight problems will receive glasses for the school year 2008-2009. This was made possible by the generous contributions of a number of donors, including private individuals.
UNRWA has also implemented a policy of annual eye tests for children at the ages of 6, 10, and 14. Primary eye tests are carried out at schools by trained health tutors. If a child is diagnosed with a sight deficiency, then he or she is referred to the UNRWA medical experts who regularly visit UNRWA schools around the Gaza Strip. UNRWA then provides the children with glasses, through a local optometrist.
Amani Abu Zeina, 10 years old, from Al Zaitoun elementary school, had a sight problem detected in both eyes by her teacher and health tutor. She was referred to the specialist, Dr. Khalid Mashharwi, who examined her sight, diagnosed severe nearsightedness, and recommended that she immediately be given eyeglasses.
Amani has now received her eyeglasses and, when visited in her classroom, said that she was delighted with them. "I am now able to see and read and write and play like my colleagues. Before, I used to feel bad and ashamed that I did not have the same abilities they had. I am much happier now," said Amani.
At Beach Boys Elementary School A, Anas Abu Hamam, fourth grade, was also diagnosed with a sight deficiency. He has just received his eyeglasses.
"Before I put on my eyeglasses, I used to have problems seeing what the teacher wrote on the board, even though I was sitting on the first row of desks. I used to guess what the words might be, and write them down. Now, with the eyeglasses my life has become easier, even outside the school, when I want to cross the street for example, I am able to see the cars coming from far away."
According to Dr. Mashharwi, the number of children with sight problems in the Gaza Strip is increasing every year. This is due to a number of factors, including poor nutrition and increasing pollution in the territory. But for this year at least children will be able to see clearly.
UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East provides one of the most cost effective and efficient health delivery systems in the Middle East. Some 4,200 health workers provide health care to Palestine refugees in 134 centres. For 2008-2009 the health programme accounts for $212 million out of UNRWA's regular budget of $1.1 billion.
Some 4.6 million Palestine refugees in UNRWA's five fields of operations – Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem – are eligible for Agency services, including education, healthcare, social services, shelter, micro-credit loans and emergency aid. UNRWA employs nearly 30,000 staff, the vast majority of whom are Palestine refugees. UNRWA's operations are financed almost entirely by voluntary contributions from donors.