Gaza residents unable to get medical care, aid workers say

Munir Mahmoud said he must pay over $1,600 for an Israeli private security company to escort him to the Jordanian border or else he cannot leave Gaza. (IRIN)

JERUSALEM, 25 October (IRIN) - Dozens of patients in the Gaza Strip are unable to receive medical treatment, in some cases life-saving procedures, due to the continued border closures with Israel and Egypt, health officials and international aid workers said.

“At least three patients denied exit permits have died since June, and others have lost limbs or sight,” Human Rights Watch reported. The Palestinian organization Al Mezan in Gaza said a fourth man, Nimir Muhammad Shuheibar, aged 77, died on 23 October while awaiting treatment.

Shadi Yassin, a spokesman for the Israeli Civil Administration in Gaza, said he was unaware of deaths due to the restrictions. The Israel Medical Association said it “regards the access to healthcare services as a fundamental right of all persons and therefore takes the current situation very seriously.”

The Rafah Crossing to Egypt, the only one from Gaza to points outside Israel, has been closed since 9 June. Patients who would have gone to Egypt for treatment, or continued from there to other countries for healthcare, are trying to get into Israel.

While in the past 50 patients were referred abroad each day, “now we can only transfer a very limited number [to Israel],” said Khaled Radi from the Ministry of Health in Gaza, adding that the closures affected the hospitals’ already limited ability to offer services.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said 155 patients made it into Israel in the week of 13-20 October, an increase from previous weeks. While Israel has allowed the majority of Gaza patients who have filed requests to leave the enclave for treatment, dozens are still denied entry.

Yassin said: “We try to help all humanitarian cases,” but blamed the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip.

The Gaza medical system is unable to offer many services, including MRI diagnostics, radiotherapy, cancer treatment and major heart surgeries, especially for children. The border restrictions have also led to the closure of nearly all factories in Gaza and an increasing shortage of basic food supplies, the UN and local advocacy groups said.

“The economic noose continues to tighten around the necks of the people of Gaza, who are being manifestly punished as part of a political strategy,” said UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes.

Lack of access to care

Tayssir al-Mallahi’s problem is financial. The 53-year-old father of 10 from Gaza City does not have US$600 to pay an ambulance to take him from Erez to Nablus in the West Bank, where he is scheduled for open heart surgery.

He told IRIN he does not require the ambulance, but he was informed by the Palestinian health coordinators that the Israeli side considered it a pre-requisite for entry. “I missed my chance to leave for [treatment because of] a lack of money,” he said.

For others, the problem is security-related.

The Israeli Physicians for Human Rights said it intervened on behalf of 138 patients from Gaza who were denied entry to Israel on security grounds and managed to procure exit permits for more than 50 of them.

Munir Mahmoud, 43, a cancer patient from Gaza, said he was told that for security reasons he would have to pay more than US$1,600 for an Israeli private security company to escort him from Erez to the Jordanian border, as he is scheduled for treatment in Amman.

“I can’t pay this very expensive price. I’m a driver who earns a day wage,” he told IRIN. His visa for Jordan expired on 23 October so he is still inside the enclave.

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