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Health Care in Holy Land

Sister Sophie Boueri visits Palestinian children at the Creche facility for abandoned children in Bethlehem, West Bank. She is a member of the Daughters of Charity, an order that has worked in Bethlehem for 126 years. (Photo: CNS/Paul Haring) 

07 Oct 2010 – by Mark Pattison

KARAK, Jordan (CNS) — Comboni Sister Alessandra, the administrator of the Italian Hospital in Karak, knows what she’d do if she had a couple of million dollars.

The Italian-born nun would build a 15-chair dialysis clinic that could be used 10 hours a day, seven days a week. She also would beef up the maternity ward and infant care areas at the hospital.

“The water here is bad. People’s kidneys work hard” to cleanse the impurities in the water, she said. If the kidneys work too hard, dialysis becomes necessary.

A new birthing center and an expanded neonatal intensive care unit could help poorer mothers and their children get the care they need, Sister Alessandra said. Currently, the hospital averages about three births a day.

The needs, according to Sister Alessandra, are acute. Meeting the needs in Karak and elsewhere in the Middle East is problematic. There seems to be a perpetual shortage of money, and the number of sisters available for health ministry keeps shrinking.

The Comboni order had established hospitals throughout the Middle East — all with the name “Italian Hospital,” given the order’s roots — but a decrease in vocations has forced the order to close hospitals throughout the region. Egypt once had 13 Italian Hospitals, said Sister Clara, a short and stocky 70-ish Comboni nun now stationed in Karak; now there is just one.

Sister Alessandra is one of seven Comboni Sisters at the 38-bed hospital. Two of the seven are not Italian: One is from Sri Lanka, the other from Egypt.

At a maternity and infant clinic in the Jordanian city of Zarqa, about 160 women and children are seen each day. Most are Palestinian Muslims who grew up in a refugee camp a block away from the clinic.

The clinic bustles. Children received shots with an unrelenting frequency. A workshop on hygiene takes place in a stairwell — more than 20 women crowd in to listen and learn.

Sister Habiba Touma, a Dominican Sister of St. Catherine of Siena who spent 10 years overseeing the clinic before returning to her native Iraq in late September to take a leadership post with her order, said through an interpreter that the clinic “could make a profit.”

“But we don’t,” she added, “because we want the people to see who we are” as Catholics.

The clinic, staffed with two doctors — one male and one female — was to get a third doctor, another woman, because the new and expectant mothers often prefer to see a female physician.

In Bethlehem, West Bank, at the Ephpheta Paul VI Institute, the Italian-based Sisters of St. Dorothy have augmented their ranks with non-Italian sisters. Three of the seven nuns at the school, which educates 140 deaf children, hail from Jordan.

The school has outfitted all of its students with hearing aids and has paid for cochlear implants for 25 of them. Sister Pierluigina Carpenado, director of the Ephpheta Institute, said about two dozen students stay year-round at the school because of the distance to be traveled coupled with the potential of Israeli security checkpoints delaying or blocking their travel to the West Bank.

Next door to the school is Holy Family Hospital, which long ago stopped trying to be a full-service hospital. Instead, it has turned its attention to infants and children, as well as women in trouble.

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