Concern for Gaza patients who cannot go abroad for treatment

Yousef Abed, a 24-year-old fire-fighter. (Fares Akram/IRIN)

JERUSALEM, 2 July 2007 (IRIN) - Many Palestinian patients in the Gaza Strip have been unable to access health care and advanced medical treatment since 9 June, when the Rafah crossing to Egypt was closed.

The medical infrastructure in Gaza is not able to provide certain services to its residents, including many types of surgery, and the Palestinian ministry of health refers patients to hospitals in countries such as Egypt and Israel.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2003 some 7,844 cases were referred abroad, of which 62.5 percent were sent to Egypt for treatment via Rafah. Now, this option no longer exists.

“The WHO is concerned about access for patients who need to travel for treatment,” said Mahmoud Daher from the WHO in Gaza.

WHO estimates that between 300-400 patients a month need to travel through Rafah for medical care.

Dr Fawzi Nabulssi, from the Intensive Care Unit at Gaza’s main Shifa Hospital, said five patients, all in a critical condition, await transport to Egypt.

“A number of them have been here for a month and a half,” he said.

Erez crossing

Israel has allowed some patients to travel through Erez crossing to receive treatment in Israeli hospitals and West Bank medical centres, at a rate of about 15 a day.

However, traveling through Erez requires Israeli issued permits, a problem for some as they are deemed “security risks”.

“Right now, if someone is security restricted, access to advanced medical care may be off limits all together,” said a medical official, who is not authorized to speak to the press.

Waiting to travel

Yousef Abed, a 24-year-old fire-fighter, was one of the over 500 people injured in the clashes between the rival Hamas and Fatah factions in Gaza 9-14 June.

He has tried, and failed, to travel to Ramallah, in the West Bank, for treatment for the gunshot wounds which injured his jaw and knee.

“I went to Erez, after the incidents ended here. While we were [at the crossing], clashes took place between the Israelis and militants from Hamas,” Abed said from his bed in Shifa hospital.

Similarly, Hekmet Baker, 22, was targeted by militants for his alleged political affiliations. He suffered severe damage to his liver and kidney.

“I am dying here and I’m forgotten,” he said.

His brother continues to press hospital officials to secure a transfer for him to a hospital outside Gaza where he can receive treatment.

Food aid

While, food aid continues to arrive in Gaza, residents still face hardships.

The UN’s World Food Program (WFP) said that although the situation had improved, daily basic consumption needs have not been met.

“The WFP remains extremely concerned about the stock of basic commodities in Gaza, and we continue to closely monitor the situation,” said Kirstie Campbell, a spokeswoman for the agency.

Also, as Palestinians in Gaza remain unable to export their goods due to the border closures, people’s purchasing power has diminished. Over 85 percent of the population lives below a poverty line set at US$2.41 a day.

This affects their ability to buy basic supplies such as drinking water, fuel and soap.

Cash transfer

On 1 July Palestinian officials confirmed they had received about US$117 million from Israel, out of an estimated US$600 million in withheld tax revenues Israel refused to transfer when Hamas was part of the Palestinian Authority government.

Israel’s cabinet authorized the move, after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas set up an emergency government based in the West Bank, without Hamas members.

Palestinian observers said a fair portion of the monies would go towards the salaries of civil servants, who have not received regular payments in over a year.

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