Wheelchairs remain scarce in Gaza hospital shelled by Israel

Much of the equipment needed to treat people with disabilities in al-Wafa Hospital was destroyed during the 2014 Israeli attack.

Mohammed Asad APA images

Muhammad Refi has two main ambitions. He wants to qualify as an engineer and to establish a hospital for children with disabilities. “I do not want them to suffer like me,” he said.

The 9-year-old has endured enormous loss. His father and eight other members of his extended family were killed during Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza.

Muhammad himself received severe injuries to his spinal cord. He has to use a mechanical ventilator in order to breathe.

“Muhammad cannot move back home because he needs very specialized medical care,” said Abdullah Sakran, a doctor in al-Wafa hospital. Like many other buildings in the Shujaiya neighborhood of Gaza City, the hospital was shelled by Israel last year.

More than 11,000 Palestinians — including 3,400 children — were injured during the 2014 attack on Gaza. Approximately 10 percent of the wounded have permanent disabilities, according to the United Nations monitoring group OCHA.

Much of the equipment needed to treat people with disabilities in al-Wafa was destroyed when Israel shelled the hospital in July last year.

Al-Wafa is the only rehabilitation hospital of its kind in Gaza. Because of the attack, it was forced to treat people with disabilities and the elderly in a secondary location.

Its services have also been affected by a shortage of international aid.

Desperate need

Dr. Basman Alashi, the hospital’s director, said that patients are struggling to pay for their treatment.

Almost 40 percent of Gaza’s population lives in poverty, according to the World Bank. Little more than one-third of the $3.5 billion pledged to Gaza at an October 2014 international donor conference in Cairo has been delivered.

Al-Wafa’s staff say that they used to be able to treat 1,000 patients per day. The damage caused by Israel’s attack has reduced their capacity, with the result that they have to limit themselves to the most severe cases.

“These dire circumstances have bad implications for people with disabilities, who feel as if they are a new burden on their families and on society,” said Alashi. “They are in desperate need of any kind of help to bring them wheelchairs and crutches.”

Among those being treated in al-Wafa are Suhaib Shalat, a three-year-old who was badly injured in an Israeli strike on his home in Nuseirat, a refugee camp in central Gaza. Besides losing his mother in the attack, the young boy will have restricted mobility for the rest of his life.

Lost hope

Muhammad Abu Jarad, 25, from Beit Hanoun, a village north of Gaza City, suffered injuries to his head and other parts of his body during Israel’s attack. He has hearing impairment and now uses a wheelchair.

“I had to wait for longer than eight months to receive a wheelchair and start my life again,” he said.

Because of his injuries, Abu Jarad has had to give up his studies. His hopes to obtain a history degree from the Islamic University of Gaza have been thwarted.

Abu Jarad has been blocked from traveling outside Gaza for treatment.

Between late October 2014 and the middle of this month, the Rafah crossing — the sole point of exit and entry for most of Gaza’s 1.8 million residents — with Egypt was open for a mere 34 days. The constant closure of the crossing has had a negative impact on 30,000 people requiring humanitarian assistance, OCHA has calculated.

“I wanted to travel abroad where I can get a better medical treatment,” said Abu Jarad. “But they denied me this legitimate right.”

Isra Saleh el-Namey is a journalist from Gaza.