Diagnosis key to improving Palestinian children’s lives

Published: 17 June 2004 0:00 CET

The little boy is having his ears checked, but it’s not an easy process for the Palestine Red Crescent doctor, who suspects he has an infection.

The boy does not cry, but at two years old, he does not have patience to keep still and keep his mouth closed, so the examination has to be repeated a number of times to get the right result.

“It is sometimes difficult to make small children do what you ask them, but in the end we usually succeed,” the doctor, Diana Abdo says, laughing when the ear examination is finished.

“This little boy will probably not need to come back to the centre, but we have 85 clients who come here on a regular basis. Some come only for diagnosis, and are then referred to other more specialised health care centres if necessary,” she says.

Diana Abdo is coordinator of the speech and hearing unit at the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) Rehabilitation Department.

The Diagnostics Centre in Ramallah was originally founded in 1995, but in 2001 it became an integral part of the Rehabilitation Department of the Palestine Red Crescent Society.

The centre focuses primarily on diagnosing and treating children under the age of 10, and it is divided into four units, hearing and speech, physiotherapy, ability development, and a psychosocial unit.

“Being able to diagnose children with hearing and other problems is crucial to finding an appropriate solution to their difficulties. We know of numerous cases where children were able to improve their performance at school after their problems had been diagnosed,” Abdo says.

“A hearing aid or speech therapy here at the centre has greatly improved the communications skills of numerous children, as well as their ability to cope with life in general,” she adds.

Several towns and villages in the West Bank have limited access to health services, and in order to bring those services to patients and elderly people who are unable to come to Ramallah, the staff of Diagnostics Centre also pay regular visits to the town of Khatta, 15 km from Ramallah.

“The political situation is affecting our work, and checkpoints and other restrictions on movement sometimes prevent patients from reaching the Diagnostics Centre,” Abdo continues.

“Screening and diagnosis, as well as follow-up on patients are very important parts of health care services. The centre has responded to the circumstances of the conflict by bringing its services into the field. We carry the equipment across checkpoints ourselves if that is what is needed to serve the people.

“What we are doing we do out of love and devotion, and we do everything we can to help our patients."

The Diagnostic Centre also has a leasing service as a part of its programme, and provides wheelchairs, crutches and various other devices to its patients. It also runs a hearing aid bank, supplying both analogue and digital hearing aids, depending on the level of hearing impairment.

Abdo says that having health problems diagnosed and the problem addressed in the correct manner can make an astonishing difference.

“We often witness remarkable progress in our clients. Many of the children who come for speech therapy are unable to speak during their first visits, and it is very rewarding to see how fast they change. Some are able to speak after only two or three months of speech therapy,” she says, adding that there have been many cases of successful recovery through the centre’s physiotherapy unit.

“One of the clients suffers from cerebral palsy. When she first came she was unable to even hold up her head. She has been going through a physiotherapy programme, and now she is at a stage where she can sit and is well able to hold her head. Her parents and siblings are very pleased with the progress.”

“But we do not only measure our work by improvements. Every child who comes here is just as precious to us, and we accept every one of them not only with their talents, but with their limitations as well,” Diane Abdo says. “I always feel as if we are just one large family and I know that many of the clients who come here feel the same.”