COVID-19: Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem makes room for emergency

25 Mar 2020
The hospital has set up a special isolation ward and is carefully screening patients and staff before admitting them to the hospital . Photo: LWF/ S. Weinbrenner

The hospital has set up a special isolation ward and is carefully screening patients and staff before admitting them to the hospital . Photo: LWF/ S. Weinbrenner

"Every precaution to protect high-risk patients”

(LWI) - Like hospitals around the world, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem has been preparing for the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). “Our main concerns are our patients and staff,” says Sieglinde Weinbrenner, LWF country representative in Jerusalem. The hospital provides specialized cancer and dialysis treatment.

“AVH has no emergency room or ambulance. Our patients are the highest risk group imaginable; we therefore need to take every precaution to protect them and the staff who are in contact with them,” said Weinbrenner. The neighboring hospitals will therefore manage the COVID-19 response, while AVH remains an emergency back-up.

Still, the hospital is creating the capacity to receive COVID-19 patients should the situation require it. Currently, caution is taken for new cancer patients being accepted for treatment. Surgery, where possible, has been postponed, the mobile diabetes unit has been closed. Diabetes patients are being referred to local networks.

An emergency plan has mapped all needs to receive corona patients, from within the AVH patients or outside should the situation in the country require it. “We urgently need protective clothing, masks and gloves,” Weinbrenner said. “At the moment there are shortages everywhere, it’s not easy to find that material.”

Operations scaled down; isolation areas established

Many of AVH patients and most of its staff come from the Bethlehem district, a currently locked-down area with corona infected cases within the West Bank. AVH established strict protocols to assess health status before allowing these staff and patients to enter the hospital.

At AVH, tents have been set up for triaging purposes and to do an initial health check for anyone entering the hospital, patients are being triaged by phone and prior to getting on the busses checked before admission. Wards have been separated to easily be able to quarantine.

“We are expecting test kits soon, to take the samples and we have lab capacity to perform the test,” said Weinbrenner. “Right now, these are all precautionary measures to isolate possible cases.”

Emergency: housing staff and patients from the West Bank

As of Tuesday 24 March, there are no confirmed cases in East Jerusalem. 58 cases have been confirmed in the West Bank and 2 in Gaza. As Israel has reported more than 2030 cases, the number of reported cases may also be low because little testing has been done in the Palestinian Territories. Gaza has been completely locked down and AVH is not able to send a medical team to support, as it has done in the past. “I can only imagine conditions there,” Weinbrenner said.

Meanwhile, an unforeseen emergency has been created by the movement restrictions and quarantine measures taken in the Palestinian territories. Patients who finished their treatment will have to go into quarantine for 14 days upon their return to Gaza. Many of them decide to stay for the next round of treatment. For patients who would normally come from the West Bank for a day visit to receive dialysis, AVH tries to limit movement and the associated quarantine.

180 patients and their accompanying person, as well as AVH staff therefore are for the time being housed on the AVH campus on the Mount of Olives, and in nearby hotels. At the outset of the outbreak AVH efficiently organized accommodation for the pediatric dialysis children and their mothers from the Bethlehem District by contracting a hotel. This later expanded to dialysis patients from other districts as well as radiology patients from across Palestine.

Vocational training successfully moved online

The LWF Vocational Training Program and its centers in Beit Hanina and Ramallah have remained closed for the last weeks, and will continue to remain closed in accordance with instructions from the authorities. LWF staff have set up WhatsApp groups for the students and created classes and courses for interactive online learning. The Vocational Training centers have also used applications such as Zoom and other programs. “It is very well received by both students and their parents,” the LWF Country Representative said.

Call for donations

LWF is calling for donations so it can continue to serve vulnerable communities. The Augusta Victoria Hospital specifically needs ventilators, autoclaves and protective supplies and disposables. LWF and AVH also require funds to care for patients who have finished their treatment but cannot return to Gaza, and to provide for their own staff.


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LWF's response to COVID-19 pandemic


Augusta Victoria Hospital is a center of medical excellence in East Jerusalem, serving all 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. It offers specialized care not available in other hospitals in the West Bank and Gaza, including radiation therapy for cancer patients and pediatric hemodialysis. Augusta Victoria Hospital is accredited by the Joint Commission International for its outstanding quality. Patients are referred to the AVH by the Palestinian Authority.