West Bank patients grow increasingly desperate for medical treatment

A young man with broken arms looks at nurses who went on strike in Rafidea Hospital in Nablus. (Naela Khalil/IRIN)

JERUSALEM - According to international aid organisations, a five week health workers’ strike in the West Bank has prompted some Palestinians to threaten medical staff into treating them.

The West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem are known collectively as the occupied Palestinian territories. The West Bank is a landlocked territory bordered by Israel in the west, north and south, and by Jordan in the east.

“The strike has had a huge impact on health services. People are knocking on the doors of doctors who are at home and offering to pay for treatment,” said David, Shearer, head of the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Jerusalem.

“People are also threatening medical staff to try to get themselves treated - and it’s going to get worse. We don’t have any numbers on how many people may actually have died, or how many babies may have died in childbirth, as they are not being registered.”

Shearer said the strike was affecting the West Bank more than the Gaza Strip. The Gaza strip, he said, faces severe shortages of medicine and equipment owing to Israel’s closure of crossing points into it, from Israel and Egypt.

Hospital staff are protesting the non-payment of their wages since January, following the democratic election of a Hamas-led Palestinian.

Hamas is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel, the European Union and the United States, among others, because it has refused to renounce violence and accept Israel’s right to exist.

As such, Western nations imposed a trade embargo and suspended all aid payments to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in January.

Ten months later, aid money is desperately needed to pay the salaries of about 160,000 PNA employees, including doctors and nurses. Other PNA staff such as teachers, are also on strike.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported earlier this month that some would-be patients have threatened medical staff with weapons, and even beaten them up in a bid to get treatment.

According to the WHO, West Bank emergency rooms are receiving only critical cases, and most hospital wards are closed, with the exception of intensive care, coronary, oncology and haemodialysis units.

In Hebron Hospital, 25km south of Jerusalem, the number of patients receiving emergency treatment has dropped from 250 a day in August 2006, to 20 a day in September when the strike began, according to the WHO.

In the same month-long period, the number of outpatients receiving treatment has dropped from 500 a day, to zero; the number of patients receiving elective surgery has dropped from 25 a day to zero; and hospital admissions have dropped from 150 a day, to just 10. In Beit Jala Hospital near Bethlehem, 15km south-west of Jerusalem, the number of emergency patients has dropped to 15 a day, from 92.

Overall, the number of patients receiving treatment in Ministry of Health clinics has fallen significantly to just three a day in Jenin, 20 a day in Ramallah, five a day in Jerusalem and two a day in Salfit. In Nablus, the number of patients receiving treatment has halved.

Shearer said that aid agencies, such as the UN’s agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA), were treating more Palestinians as a result of the strike. “UNRWA is increasing the capacity of its clinics and is now vaccinating non-refugees, and the private and non-governmental sector are also treating more people,” he said.

Tamar Samash, spokeswoman for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the health crisis in the occupied territories was its own doing. “Israel is not responsible for the situation created in the West Bank after the election of Hamas and the steps taken by the international community which have created the situation the PNA is confronting now,” Samash said.

“We expect the Hamas government to agree to the three demands made upon it,” she said. Those demands are to recognise Israel, renounce violence and abide by previous agreements between the PNA and Israel.

This item comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. All IRIN material may be reposted or reprinted free-of-charge; refer to the copyright page for conditions of use. IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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