Over Christmas in 1952, a priest from Switzerland was one of the pilgrims to Bethlehem. While the church bells rang for Midnight Mass he witnessed a Palestinian refugee bury his child, dead from starvation and cold. Deeply affected, Fr. Schnydrig immediately rented two rooms in the town of Jesus' birth and furnished them with 14 cots. That is how the famous Caritas Baby Hospital began. Those two rooms were quickly outgrown and Caritas has moved three times; in 1978 the present hospital was built, remodelled and enlarged twice, and now offers care to 80 babies with an out-patient clinic as well as primary health care services in two villages on the West Bank. Two hundred staff members include 12 doctors and 18 registered nurses working with the Palestinian support staff, spending their time in a ward for premature babies or in the two wards of babies and infants who suffer from chest infections, gastroenteritis, malnutrition, injuries and genetic malformations. The annual number of babies admitted to Caritas ranges from 3000 - 3500 yearly with infants mainly from the Bethlehem and Hebron districts. Caritas aims to provide paediatric care mainly for low income families. The average daily cost is $120.00, yet the hospital only asks for $30.00 a day. The remainder comes from the generous Swiss, German and Austrian Caritas supporters. Many Christian and Moslem families who come now cannot even pay this small fee due to the loss of income caused by Israeli road closures and the war-torn economy. One child from Gaza who was brought to the hospital last September must still be on a feeding tube. The mother is not allowed by the Israeli Army to pass out of Gaza, but remains undaunted and telephones the hospital weekly so that her daughter knows she cares and will not forget her voice. Caritas Baby Hospital has an amazing kitchen where formulas are prepared for each baby. Powdered milk, the base for these formulas comes from Ramallah, but when the Israeli Government imposes strict closures, supplies including this milk are not allowed out - even though the lives of 80 infants are at risk. In an effort to help the local economy, the hospital does not use volunteers, preferring to have local Arab women, whose families need the income. There are, however, Europeans who are part of the professional staff. Europeans are free to travel and Palestinians are not. So these doctors and nurses attend conferences about the latest developments in paediatric treatment. When they return, they are able to update the rest of the staff and keep the hospital progressive in paediatric care. Caritas Baby Hospital also has a nursing school with a two-year course for paediatric practical nurses. Though the official name of the hospital is now Kinderhilfe Bethlehem, the name given by Fr. Schnydrig in 1952, Caritas Baby Hospital, is still the name by which this remarkable institution is known here.
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