Medical workers have created an outreach program across the Gaza Strip, going door-to-door to treat patients and help families of the injured, ill and wounded take care of their loved ones.
This outreach program may be one of the only ways patients can get treatment until medical facilities destroyed by Israel this summer are rebuilt and the siege is lifted, says Basman Alashi, executive director of Gaza’s al-Wafa hospital.
Of the approximately 11,000 Palestinians wounded in Israeli strikes on Gaza this summer, about half require rehabilitation care, says Dr. Alashi.
Dr. Alashi and the al-Wafa hospital staff were able to evacuate the patients — some needing round-the-clock care and monitoring — to other locations, including relatives’ homes.
Though the patients are currently being cared for, the need for medical and rehabilitation equipment is immediate and critical, Dr. Alashi told The Electronic Intifada in an interview.
Yet despite the urgency of Gaza’s needs, Egypt is preventing the importing of medicine and equipment, says the hospital director.
“The Israelis are letting some basic medicines coming in because of the international pressure on them … but the Egyptians are really zero tolerance — they are not allowing anything in,” Dr. Alashi said.
Listen to the full interview with Dr. Alashi via the player, or read the full transcript below.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: It’s been two months since Israel bombed your hospital, what has happened to the patients, and where are they being cared for right now?
Basman Alashi: My patients — my staff are taking care of them in a new location. That location belongs to al-Wafa hospital, but it was designed for the elderly as a housing for them at no charge. We house them and we retain them with all the medical needs, the health needs, the hygiene needs at no charge since those people have no relatives to maintain them. The building is 4,000 square meters. We took the first and second floor, which is a total of about 2,000 square meters, and we accommodate all our patients, and we are receiving new patients from local hospitals. Our capacity is over fifty beds, and we were able to not fully return to full function, but at least we are 70 percent back, doing the same things except the surgery room which we are unable to have somebody to let it enter Gaza because of the restrictions from the Egyptian side or the Israeli side.
NBF: Well, the blockade seems to still be in place, of course, as you just said. Are patients who have had limbs amputated, for example, able to receive prosthetics, and are your staff able to access the sort of life-saving machines, or rehabilitation machines, that you were able to use at al-Wafa before the bombing?
BA: The machines that we are using now are very primitive machines. They are totally not exactly the same machines that we used to have at al-Wafa in the building that were destroyed by the Israelis. But right now we are using nearly 50 percent our hands, hot pads and cold pads, but other equipment — the walking [machines], the ability to stretch the muscles, the ability to flex the muscles — these machines, many local and international charity organizations, or governments, have promised to supply to us. But these promises have not been fulfilled yet, and we are just waiting. But because of the expertise of our staff, they were able to give the proper care to our patients despite that we don’t have all of the machines — because of their expertise and the long-term being in that kind of business.
We are receiving more patients every day, those who were injured during the war on Gaza — during the 51-day war by the Israelis. These patients are young, old, women and men, there is no distinction to whoever they are. We are giving the proper — people are leaving walking, they come crawling or in a wheelchair but they leave walking from the hospital. And we are able, with the miracles, to bring them back as functioning citizens.
The Egyptian side is totally restricting any entry of any medical equipment or medicines to Gaza. We have an ambulance — our ambulance was destroyed in the war. We had requested an ambulance, and there are organizations that have promised to supply us with an ambulance. They brought us an ambulance all the way to Egypt, and they are right now waiting for the Egyptians to give them permission to enter Gaza. And it has been more than thirty days and they have not heard a reply from them. So the Egyptians are not letting in any medicines. The Israelis are letting some basic medicines coming in because of the international pressure on them, but in terms of who allows medicines and prosthetics and all that’s needed to the hospital, the Israelis are allowing but the Egyptians are really zero tolerance — they are not allowing anything in.
NBF: Wow. Dr. Alashi, you said in an earlier interview that there is now an entirely new generation of people with physical and mental disabilities, amongst the 11,000 injured in Israel’s 51 days of attacks. How are the doctors and staff at al-Wafa assessing the kinds of needs of patients right now, when your capabilities are limited, as the supplies are limited, and as you’re working, as you said, with primitive machines?
BA: We assess that the injured — those who need medical rehabilitation — are more than 50 percent of the injured. None of the hospitals here in Gaza would be able to handle all [those people]. So al-Wafa hospital created an outreach program. That program — we go to the homes of the people and the injured ones in Shujaiya especially, since we’re part of that side of Gaza. We went home to home, helping people, helping the injured, or if they need any assistance. So that outreach program gives basic medicine, gives training on how to take care of their wounds, how to train the family inside their house to take care of the wounded and ill ones.
That outreach program has taken a lot from al-Wafa hospital in terms of financial ability, but since our mission is a mercy mission and a mission to help the Palestinians in Gaza, we have pushed ourselves to the limit — so we can help every patient we are able to reach through this outreach program, which gives medical rehabilitation, medical supplies, wheelchairs, walkers, waterbeds, or airbeds, so we can reach as many people as we can.
We cannot accommodate 50 percent of the injured — this will be 5,000 people. Our hospital can only accommodate fifty [patients]. So we went there, to their homes, to help them. And we are the only hospital in Gaza that has created such a program. And we are very successful — even though financially, we are on a very tight budget.
NBF: Finally, Dr. Alashi, al-Wafa hospital was completely bombed to rubble and dust. Are there plans yet to rebuild al-Wafa?
BA: Our plan is to rebuild al-Wafa. We have selected a new location in the middle of the town. We are right now seeking the financial support to rebuild the hospital. We have signed a new contract with the government and with other local hospitals to continue our services, because we are the only hospital that gives complete medical rehabilitation to Palestinians in Gaza. We are the oldest and the most experienced one. So Gaza, without al-Wafa, will suffer a lot without that medical rehabilitation.
The government and local hospitals supported us and have asked us to continue the services, to not stop — so we have located a new 4,000 square meter [location] in the middle of the city, and right now it will take us a year or a year and a half to rebuild this hospital. And with the help of God, we will be able to come back with full function to help humanity and to help the Palestinians in Gaza.