As Nursing Director at the eye hospital run by St. John Eye Hospital Group (SJJEH) in Jerusalem, Jackie Jaidy helped set up satellite pediatric eye clinics in Gaza, Anabta, and Hebron in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). When she retired in 2009, she never expected that she would soon be returning to Hebron — this time as a patient.
Jaidy was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy, a condition that can lead to blindness if left untreated. Although she is a British subject, as a resident of Bethlehem in the West Bank, she is not allowed to travel the six miles to Jerusalem without special permission from the Israeli government — and that would have taken more time than she had. Instead, she and her husband drove 13 miles to the satellite clinic in Hebron. There, she was examined by Dr. Ghassan Modieh, who immediately started her on a course of treatment.
"I was very pleased to see that my attendant nurse, Nader Hajjaj, had learned to operate all the technical equipment," Jaidy said, "and now functions as both nurse and technician."
One of SJJEH's goals is to train local specialists. Its ophthalmology training program is recognized by the Palestinian and Jordanian Boards of Ophthalmology. "In training local people," says Rod Bull, SJJEH's CEO, "we invest in the region and help to rebuild its fractured infrastructure."
Later, when Jaidy continued treatment at the Jerusalem Hospital, she discovered that nurses there have become technicians, opticians and orthoptic assistants. "It is most gratifying to me," she says, "that our nurses have become so flexible and adaptable."
SJJEH has been providing eye care in the area since 1882. Over the past decade, the population of the OPT has swelled to just over four million — more than half of whom are under the age of 18. Intermarriage and poverty make these children prone to a number of congenital eye conditions. There's a social cost as well. Obvious eye defects are stigmatized in Middle Eastern culture, and parents keep afflicted children hidden at home instead of sending them to school.
Although the rate of blindness in the OPT is 10 times higher than in the West, 80% of it is preventable if children are treated at the appropriate time in their development. SJJEH has set a goal to eliminate preventable blindness throughout the OPT, a World Health Organization objective. As a non-partisan, peace-oriented organization, it treats patients regardless of ethnicity, religion or ability to pay. For the past four years, TPRF has partnered with SJJEH by helping to cover the costs of eye care for indigent patients.
In addition to the main hospital in East Jerusalem, the nonprofit runs five satellite clinics, and its Mobile Outreach teams diagnose, treat and educate patients in remote areas. Last year, Mr. Bull says, more than 107,000 patients were treated, nearly 36,000 of them children.
Photo courtesy of SJJEH.