Dr JAMAL RIFI AM, Board Member, Project Rozana Australia
Seven years ago, Project Rozana began with a simple mission: to build bridges between Israelis and Palestinians through health. This year, that mission took on greater urgency as COVID-19 began to infect and then kill an increasing number of people in both communities.
We watched in horror as the numbers mounted, coming to the realisation that there was no apparent way to bring ‘hostilities’ to an end. There was no one to reason with. Like every other NGO we became witness to a crisis that the world hasn’t experienced for more than 100 years. We were all bystanders to an evolving catastrophe.
But then something remarkable happened. We saw how the fruits of our labours began to blossom. Our vision and hard work coalesced into an opportunity that was always at the heart of our mission – to be relevant to the people we felt enabled to assist through the agency of their respective governments.
That moment happened when the Palestinian Foreign Minister, Riyad al-Maliki, reached out to Project Rozana. The Palestinian Authority desperately needed ventilators for its overstretched health system and, in particular, COVID-19 enabled invasive ventilators for its most at-risk citizens.
Dr al-Maliki revealed two sobering facts. The first is that there are only 322 adult ventilators operational in the West Bank and Gaza, or one per 16,000 people. Most of these are in use. The second is that given worldwide demand, the cost to buy the needed ventilators was way beyond the government’s reach.
Finding solutions to often intractable problems is our challenge. This is no pipe dream, given our successes over seven years. But the task was herculean. Why made us think we could deliver when larger, better-established and resourced NGOs could not?
The answer is we saw no choice. The infection rate was growing inexorably, and the deaths were mounting. Within a matter of days we secured the in-principle support of three very important actors – the Australian Government, the World Health Organization and the Government of Israel, which agreed to facilitate the speedy transfer of ventilators once they landed in Israel.
We also received the support of some of Israel’s leading tertiary hospitals to provide training in the use of the ventilators and associated equipment that comprised the equipment package.
Our promise was to secure 20 of the needed ventilators which were critical to saving the lives of the most vulnerable people in Palestine. We did this through the Australian Government on a ‘buy now pay later’ arrangement. This was an extraordinary outcome given that each package (ventilators and related equipment, including training) for four COVID-19 ICU ready facilities is valued at around US$200,000. It meant we had to raise US$800,000 globally to ensure we kept our end of the bargain.
We initiated the COVID-19 Palestinian Emergency Ventilator Appeal and approached you – our supporters in the US, Canada, the UK, Israel and Australia. Thanks to your incredibly generous support we are well on our way to meeting our target.
Project Rozana is a child of its time. We feel privileged to partner with you and through you, your networks of influence be they social or financial. We will not compromise the faith you have in us to make a difference to the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. Or to the Israelis who have opened their hearts and their hospitals so that our mission can deliver on its promise.