On the last day of 2020, Minister of Health Emais Roberts knocked down a cement wall with a sledgehammer in front of Western Community Health Center (WCHC) in Ngeremlengui.
The ritual signified the groundbreaking of a project funded by the Government of India and carried out by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and the Palau Ministry of Health (MOH) to rehabilitate three community health centers, in Ngerchelong, Ngeremlengui, and Peleliu.
The three improvement projects will be kickstarted this week, for WCHC, the Northern Community Health Center (NCHC) in Ngarchelong, and the Southern Community Health Center (SCHC) in Peleliu.
According to Mr. Thomas Blaich, the Project Manager for UNOPS, the ritual of tearing down the wall, in addition to the more familiar digging up dirt with shovels, represents improving a facility rather than simply building one.
The India grant, which totals over $1.5 million, is divided among the three dispensaries, and will be used to refurbish the roofs and walls of the buildings, as well as plumbing and AC system installations, septic tanks and C-pools for water treatment, solar energy systems, and repair of termite-infected wood. Some of the funds have also been allocated for emergency equipment for COVID, such as 15 powered air-purifying respirators and a dump-truck for medical waste disposal.
According to Minister Roberts, the three rehabilitation projects is the first phase in a plan to renovate health centers throughout the states, in additional locations such as Melekeok and Airai, and to provide further improvements to the hospital. The Minister said that the MOH plans to house a resident nurse at every dispensary and to provide community outreach programs for health and nutritional education.
Minister Roberts stressed that, although Palau has been lucky to escape COVID, health concerns remain a priority.
“We’re fortunate nobody has been sick [from COVID] . . . but, over the year we have had over 150 people in the morgue,” the Minister said, citing causes such as non-communicable diseases like diabetes and hypertension, as well as drunk driving and careless behavior. “Hopefully, when we [implement] community-related works, such as primary care and prevention programs into the community, we can decrease that number.”
The Minister said that the three sites were chosen as the recipients of the funding from India due to their being far from the Belau National Hospital in Koror. Particular attention is being paid to the NCHC in the north of Babeldaob.
“We need to start far, and come close,” the Minister said, adding that the dispensaries in Angaur and Kayangel had been repaired and equipped with resident nurses earlier this year. The health center in Angaur had received funding from the US Government and reopened in August, while the center in Kayangel had been repaired with funding from the Taiwan Government.
Mr. Blaich added that the project, which is scheduled to continue until May, will also train maintenance personnel to properly maintain the buildings following their completion, citing the importance of details such as working gutters as important to preserving good hygienic qualities in a health center.

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