- Published on Thursday, 26 July 2012 12:53
The modest office of Patient's Friends Society (PFS) sits conveniently between radiology and oncology allowing wondering patients to quickly and anonymously pick-up their pamphlets which sit neatly outside the door. These pamphlets are not your average regurgitation of medical facts.
The three-women operation dedicates long hours to updating, researching and transforming sophisticated medical rhetoric into language that is accessible and clear to its Arab patients.
In the quaint Augusta Victoria Hospital of East Jerusalem, PFS is a Palestinian NGO dedicated to "improving healthcare for Palestinians through services, education and research." A core part of its mission manifests itself in the production of educational leaflets on numerous topics from cancer prevention and awareness, to prevention of unintentional injuries; essential information that few in the country are producing. Despite working with a limited budget, the group also manages to accomplish a myriad of other projects in order to reach health professionals as well as the public.
This year, they have organized 5-6 community health lectures a month and as well as holding a life support training for 40 employees at Hebron University. For the past 3 years they have hosted a Cancer Awareness Day and this year they will hold two: one on October 16th in Jerusalem and another in November in Hebron. The demand for this lively event with community and music is growing as they work to erode the cancer stigma that holds strong in Palestinian society. Evidence of this stigma can be seen through the unwillingness of local companies to donate purely for fear of being associated with the disease.
In recognition of the cultural shame associated with cancer and the need community support, PFS's Executive Director Carol El-Jabari and Programs Coordinator Suhiela Karean, began the Sunrise Group in 2000. The first of its kind in Palestine, Sunrise is a woman's support group for cancer patients and survivors which provides educational resources and a space for women to talk comfortably. When the group first started, Jabari recalls that a cancer diagnosis was thought to be a death sentence, never to be spoken about. Now, newly diagnosed patients are given hope and encouragement from survivors and openly seeking treatment. The benefits of this type of psychosocial support are well documented in the Western world, but previously did not exist for Palestinians. While providing important educational resources, the popularity of Sunrise is largely due to its ability to give women a break from the disease. From a Mother's Day party to an outing in Nablus, its unique services leave Sunrise's 60 members requesting more meetings.
Still, challenges exist as just attending the bi-monthly meetings can be difficult for many members. Women are coming from all over the Palestinian territory, creating issues of expensive transportation costs as well as difficulty obtaining permits to cross checkpoints. There is no charge to be a member and PFS attempts to subsidize those who need help paying the bus fees. Funding tends to be sporadic and donors are more willing to back tangible items for the PFS office as opposed to transportation or lecture costs. Undeterred, the group has recently started holding additional meetings in Hebron to ease the attendance of 75% of its members who live in the West Bank.
Be it psychosocial support with the Sunrise group or their publications and outreach efforts, Patient's Friends Society is filling a void in Palestinian society. The team is chipping away at cultural and political-economic barriers to building a more medically aware and educated public.