New Care service in Bethlehem

On 1 August 2023 Bethlehem Care and Hospice Trust, a Hallam based Charity, launched a new and ground- breaking service in Bethlehem. Our Nurses, the first licensed palliative care service in Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) began caring for fifteen terminally ill people in their own homes, in Bethlehem and its surrounding villages. The Bethlehem Care and Hospice Trust is a registered Charity based in the UK and in Ireland. It is registered as an NGO in Palestine. It was set up in response to requests from Bethlehem community leaders who highlighted the limited provision of care for the terminally ill in Palestine.

Cancer is one of the major causes of death in OPT. Seven out of every ten reported cancer cases are at terminal stage when first diagnosed. A recent report identified Bethlehem as having the highest concentration of reported cancer cases in OPT. Prior to the launch of this service care for the terminally ill was generally unsupported. Described as ‘a major humanitarian service and the first of its kind to be licensed by the Palestinian Minister of Health’: the “Bethlehem Care and Hospice Trust” is presently providing palliative care to 31 patients and supporting their families. This includes providing equipment the patient would need that is not normally available in the home, such as oxygen machines, anti-decubitus mattresses, and wheelchairs. Pain relief is very important for these patients, but this hospice care extends beyond pain control and the supply of equipment and it includes support to grieving families.

There are a great many people in need of palliative care in the OPT and while the Trust has ambitions to care for many more terminally ill patients sadly, it does not have the resources to provide such care. Neither the Bethlehem community or the Palestinian Authority has the resources to support hospice care.

Bethlehem today sees no active conflict, yet the lingering repercussions of war weigh heavily on its residents. The tragic events of Saturday 7 October, and subsequent incidents have effectively paralyzed the local economy in communities like Bethlehem. Security checkpoints continue to isolate these areas, impeding the free flow of goods and people. Last year there was be no civic Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem. Bethlehem’s hotels still stand vacant. Bus and coach operators, tour guides, cafés, restaurants, and tourist sites have all shuttered doors, resulting in employee layoffs. Those who are fortunate enough to have jobs often struggle to reach their workplaces due to stringent security lockdowns and checkpoints that obstruct the free movement of people and goods. Bethlehem’s economy heavily depends on tourism and pilgrimages, yet during times of turmoil, visitors tend to stay away, causing widespread hardship. A World Health Organization report dated September 16, 2023, highlighted that 40% of the Palestinian population survives on less than $2 per day (£1.58p). Bethlehem people simply do not have the means to support themselves. Regrettably, in a region already grappling with limited employment opportunities and modest living standards, these individuals may remain jobless until lockdowns are lifted and the economy rebounds.  This is not anticipated to be anytime soon.

In these circumstances the young and healthy emigrate in search of work, security and a better life leaving the sick and the elderly. They cannot leave. They must endure. This inevitably increases the demands on the limited resources of our hospice service. However, even amidst movement and travel constraints, these dedicated Hospice Nurses persist in their compassionate work, providing care and comfort to individuals with life limiting illnesses in the Bethlehem region, right in the sanctity of their homes, despite the tumultuous circumstances that envelop them. Daily these nurses courageously confront concerns for their personal safety, yet their commitment remains unwavering as they go out and attend to the most critically ill. 

The Future? This service is presently the only licensed hospice service in the OPT providing essential palliative care to terminally ill patients, enhancing their quality of life and supporting their families. Fr Rami Asakrieh, Parish Priest of St Catherine’s Bethlehem and Chair of the Charity’s Bethlehem Board says, ‘People are very happy that care is being given to the very sick and their families are being helped and supported. This service is a great blessing to the people of Bethlehem.’ Joe McNally, Trustee of the Charity says, ‘Our service began with fifteen patients on 1 August. Today we care for 42 patients including two children. Demand for care increases every week. There is a huge amount of unmet care need.. The Charity’s ambition is to develop and extend the service beyond Bethlehem into other towns and villages in the OPT so as to extend a compassionate hand to those who are suffering to enhance their quality of life on a daily basis. We are seeking support in this really important work, because under constant difficulties and deprivations these communities do not have the resources to provide for their terminally ill and elderly themselves. Every contribution makes a real difference in enabling some of the world’s most vulnerable people, who have spent much of their lives under the shadow of injustice, violence, and warfare to spend their final days pain free and with some dignity. Funds are urgently needed, and we ask those who share our compassion to join us in making this vision a practical reality’. To find out more or to offer your help e-mail; [email protected] or visit Joe McNally