The ridiculous burdens borne by Gaza medical patients

Some medical patients in Gaza must go to great lengths (literally) to receive treatment.

Abed Rahim Khatib APA images

My family’s lengthy journey to seek medical treatment for my wife began in 2007 as infighting broke out between Fatah and Hamas. We joined the ranks of hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza heading for hospitals in Egypt.

My wife, who is also the mother of our four children, had to wait a month before she could receive treatment at the Nasser Institute in Cairo. On our way back to Gaza, we endured further waiting in the nearby Egyptian beach town al-Arish, hoping that we and many thousands of others who happened to be stranded in Egypt along with us would eventually be able to go back home.

We were stranded because the internal fighting was followed by the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and an Egyptian government decision to shut down Gaza’s main gateway to the outside world, the Rafah crossing terminal.

Because my wife and I are Palestinian and have lived through occupation and repression and siege, we remained steadfast, even as we were separated from our beloved children and the rest of our family for two consecutive months. Eventually, we came back to Gaza through a small commercial Egyptian-Israeli crossing in the Naqab (Negev) desert, called al-Auja.

Four years later, we have now returned to the same hospital, the Nasser Institute in Cairo. For the past five weeks, we have been staying here, and we are expecting to stay several weeks longer.

The facilities and standard of care at this hospital are much more advanced compared to those available in Gaza. My wife is receiving the care she needs and is trying to cope with both her health condition but meanwhile suffers the agony of being away from our children.

Absurd obstacles

Though we finally accessed medical treatment, unlike other less lucky families in Gaza, the obstacles we have encountered are absurd.

In August, we had to wait at least two weeks until my wife’s MRI scan results appeared. Then we had to wait two more weeks for the doctor’s final word about her case.

It was truly ridiculous that we should have waited that long in another country’s hospital, when we could have received the results and the doctor’s advice back home in Gaza, near our beloved children and without disrupting our lives.

Why don’t we have good medical staff in Gaza, who are well-trained and highly qualified, and can practice preventative medicine?

Isn’t it ridiculous that we have to travel long distances — approximately 500 kilometers in our case — and have no choice but to stay in a different country? Isn’t it ridiculous that we are forced to be away from our loved ones, who could help comfort us if they were nearby?

Isn’t it ridiculous that Palestinian medical staff are not being sent abroad from Gaza on training courses? Isn’t it ridiculous that instead of investing in the health of its people, the Palestinian Authority has spent the millions of dollars it receives from donor countries on its repressive security forces?

Isn’t it ridiculous that due to the lack of advanced medical technology in Gaza, one has to go to another country for diagnosis, medical checkups or treatment, even if that country is our twin, Egypt?

Following one month of medical checkups and diagnoses by expert Egyptian doctors, we have finally been informed that we should come back in three months’ time for possible treatment.

Less than three months after we were last here, doctors in Gaza referred us once again to the same Cairo hospital. And now we are in Cairo, where my wife is receiving daily treatment for a tumor that is not less hated than our conditions in the occupied Gaza Strip, where Hamas’ blue uniform police regime rules, which has split from the equally useless red carpet reception, protocol-based Fatah regime in the occupied West Bank.

Bitterness at being separated from children

Having been in Egypt for the past five weeks has required me not only to be my wife’s husband but also to act as her nurse and to stand in for her parents, her brothers and sisters and her beloved children.

Throughout this period, especially when she feels very tired as a result of her treatment, I feel a great deal of bitterness because of the lack of support around us, the lack of people who could help comfort my wife, people who could help do household chores for her, people who could give her the warmth she needs. Our four children, Muhammad (5), Nadine (8), Aseel (13) and Munir (12) could help warm their mother and be warmed by her, if she was hospitalized in Gaza, not Cairo.

Isn’t it ridiculous that a daily short therapy session for a period of six weeks, obliges us to stay away from our homeland, away from our children and relatives, and away from my work?

Isn’t ridiculous that Gaza’s health system is still suffering hugely, despite the fact that the Palestinian Authority, prior to Hamas’ takeover of Gaza four years ago, received hundreds of millions of dollars in aid from international donors?

Isn’t ridiculous that both Hamas and Fatah are fighting over the Palestinian Authority, a masquerade authority that has no defined border lines, an authority that has no air or sea ports, an authority that has no genuine control over border crossings, an authority whose budget is dependent on foreign aid?

Isn’t it ridiculous that all treatment that Gazans receive at Cairo-based hospitals are being covered financially by the internationally-funded Palestinian Authority? Isn’t it ridiculous that an amount of 73 million Egyptian pounds, almost ($12 million) is still owed by the Palestinian Authority to the Nasser Hospital Institute of Cairo, alone?

Isn’t that ridiculous when that $12 million could have been invested in improving our Palestinian health system? Isn’t it ridiculous that the situation in Gaza has forced thousands of Palestinian patients and their families out of Gaza, to bear mountains on their shoulders — burdens that be carried by nobody? These are the questions that occupy my mind as I wait in the hallways of the Nasser Institute Hospital.

Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.