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Doctors from the UK Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and workers in child health from Gaza and the West Bank recently attended a ceremony for seven doctors and two nurses who received Palestinian certificates in child health. The presentation, given by the college's president, Patricia Hamilton, in a ceremony in the West Bank, marks the culmination of seven years' work to offer a course in child health to Palestinian doctors and nurses. The training was put together by the college and offered partly by distance learning.
The paediatrician Tony Waterston, of Newcastle University, who leads the college's project, says the certificate is loosely modelled on the diploma in child health, which is offered to British GPs. “It's not quite that standard, but it is a high standard.” Unlike the UK diploma, the Palestinian certificate is offered to nurses as well as doctors.
The college hopes to extend the course to 20 students next year, he said, and ultimately aims to enrol 50 students a year in the West Bank and a further 30 in Gaza.
Modules are taught by British and Palestinian paediatricians, and students also have access to a password protected website for distance learning, said Dr Waterston. The students use facilities provided by the Palestinian Medical Relief Society.
“We got the original invitation from the Ministry of Health. They felt that the quality of care in primary care clinics, particularly in child health, was poor, because most of the doctors had been trained in European countries and weren't prepared for the kinds of situations they were facing in the West Bank and Gaza.”
The ministry has already agreed that graduates of the course will have increased professional status, but “we're still working on getting them improved pay,” said Dr Waterston. The current health minister of the Palestinian National Authority, Fathi Abu Maghli, “is in fact one of our trainees from our original attempt to set this up back in 2002,” he added.
The college has organised less advanced courses in child health for Iraqi GPs, and also runs similar projects in Africa. Their involvement in Palestine dates from the presidency of David Baum, who died in 1999. “He was Jewish,” said Dr Waterston, “had a lot of family in Israel, and knew the area. He sensed a need, and saw a challenge in working with people who are receiving nothing from outside. Since then, it's become apparent how very, very needy an area it is.”
Eleven paediatricians from the Gaza Strip travelled to the West Bank to meet with Patricia Hamilton after the college negotiated their passage with the Israeli embassy in London, said Dr Waterston. “Conditions in the West Bank have actually improved recently,” he said, citing efforts by outside donors to bolster the government of Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen. “But things in Gaza have definitely deteriorated.”