Critical Health Issues in Gaza

Since locked down and isolated by , ’s experienced systemic crisis. Its health system especially was gravely harmed.

Shifa hospital, Gaza city. An engineer from the Ministry of Health in Gaza stands among broken haemodialysis machines. The lack of medical spare parts and medical equipment results in an inability to offer the most basic of diagnostic services in Gaza health facilities. © ICRC / I. El Baba
Shifa hospital, Gaza city. An engineer from the Ministry of in Gaza stands among broken haemodialysis machines. The lack of medical spare parts and medical equipment results in an inability to offer the most basic of diagnostic services in Gaza facilities. © ICRC / I. El Baba
Many services and life-saving treatments aren’t available. Accessing it elsewhere is uncertain and tenuous. Treating chronic illnesses is jeopardized by inadequate medicines and proper equipment.

Regular Israel incursions and air attacks exacerbate bad conditions. So do deficient fuel and electricity supplies, as well as unsafe drinking water and other health hazards.

Conditions are getting worse, not better. In September Physicians for Human Rights/Israel (PHR/I) said:

“Israel glaringly violate(s) the rights of Palestinians to health, each time in a different manner.” It said the right to health “extends to (its) underlying determinants, (including) food and nutrition, housing, access to safe and potable water and adequate sanitation, safe and healthy working conditions, and a healthy environment.”

By imposing draconian impediments, Palestinians, especially Gazans, lack proper health services. As a result, lives are lost and human suffering aggravated.

“As these lines are being written, we are witnessing a grave crisis in the Gaza health system.” Its Ministry of Health reports dozens of medications in short supply or exhausted. Moreover, 123 types of medical equipment are unavailable. Dozens of others need replacing.

Israel’s Gaza policy is “humanitarian minimum.” Often it’s non-existent. Gaza lurches from one crisis to another. Duct tape solutions won’t solve it.

Absent change, “it is difficult to anticipate an end to the daily suffering of the sick and infirm individuals residing in these territories,” especially besieged .

As an occupying power, Israel bears full responsibility. Nonetheless, it willfully and systematically breaches its international law obligations. As a result, Gazans suffer horrifically, especially on accessing healthcare when it’s most needed.

On December 4, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) expressed concern over medical shortages in Gaza’s hospitals, saying:

Critical shortages of medicines affect healthcare. Repercussions are potentially catastrophic, “especially (for) patients and those suffering chronic diseases….”

According to Ministry of Health Director General of Pharmacy Dr. Muneer al-Bursh, health facilities and warehouses exhausted 120 essential medicines and 140 medical goods.

In 2011, Ramallah’s Ministry of Health supplied only 20% of Gaza’s medicinal needs. Shortages of goods like Blood Line used in dialyses threatens the lives of 400 patients currently.

Moreover, medicines for cancer, anesthesia, immune system inhibiters for kidney transplant patients (received abroad), and hemophilia have run out entirely.

At the same time, Ramallah Minister of Health director Dr. Fathi Abu Mughli said West Bank hospitals have adequate supplies. In fact, he claimed they’re better stocked than in other regional countries, except when warehouse deliveries are delayed by Israeli imposed policies. Even so, alternative drugs and treatment are available.

Mahmoud Abbas and other PA officials haven’t addressed the problem. As a result, dozens of lives are endangered, especially after the Ministry of Health decreased transferring critically ill patients for treatment “under the claim of rationalizing medical transfers from” Gaza.

On November 2, Ramallah’s Ministry of Health decreased transfers to Israeli and other hospitals. At issue was cost, it was claimed. When possible, accessing treatment in Israel is preferable because of proximity compared to Egypt and Jordan.

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Cancer patients are especially at risk. Treatment isn’t available in Gaza. Often it’s lacking in West Bank and East Jerusalem hospitals. As a result, “(t)wo children died as they urgently needed advanced medical treatment, but the Ministry of Health transferred them to hospitals that cannot treat their diseases.”

On November 4, Mohammed Azzam Sahwil died from growth retardation and muscle atrophy. In serious condition, he was admitted to Gaza’s al-Nasser Hospital’s intensive care unit.

The Ministry of Health officials knew his situation. On October 25, Form No. 1 to receive medical treatment abroad was obtained. On November 2, financial coverage was gotten for treatment at ’s al-Maqassed Hospital. He was refused admittance for lack of ability to treat him.

The Ministry of Health was informed but didn’t act. As a result, he died at Gaza’s al-Nasser Hospital. Less than a month later, his sister, Hiba Azzam Sahwil, also succumbed from the same illness.

She also got permission for treatment abroad and financial coverage at Jerusalem’s al-Maqassad Hospital. An appointment was arranged for December 13. However, she’d already deteriorated too much to help. Nonetheless, the Ministry of Health was asked to immediately transfer her to Israel’s Ekhilov Hospital. It refused. On December 1, she died.

A third sibling suffers from the same disease, Ayat Azzam. She also got permission for outside treatment and financial coverage. Ramallah’s Health Ministry was urged to save her. On December 1, admittance to Israel’s Ekhilov Hospital was gotten.

PCHR is following her case to help. It also wrote West Bank Director General of Medical Insurance Nizar Masalma, “demanding (he) allow 24 patients who suffer from serious chronic diseases continue to receive treatment in advanced medical facilities.” So far, he hasn’t responded.

A Final Comment

The Palestine News & Information Agency (WAFA) headlined, “Official Warns of Israel Ethnic Cleansing Policy in (East) Jerusalem,” saying:

PLO Jerusalem affairs head Ahmed Qurei warned of “Israel’s quiet ethnic cleansing and displacement policy against” East Jerusalem Palestinians.

Home demolitions are responsible in East Jerusalem’s Old City, as well as in Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, and other Palestinian neighborhoods. He stressed that Israel plans Judaizing all Jerusalem, one home demolition at a time.

Meanwhile, UNWRA (UN Relief and Works Agency) spokesman Chris Gunness said 2011 Israeli home demolitions doubled last year’s total.

Its research found 990 Palestinians, including 507 children, were displaced. About 515 West Bank and East Jerusalem structures were demolished. Gunness called losing a home in normal times “highly destabilizing, but in the context of occupation and annexation it often becomes lastly traumatic, especially for children.”

“The United Nations calls on the Israeli authorities to abide by their obligations under international law, of which these displacements and demolitions are a clear violation.”

“Call(ing) on” has no impact. Only policy measures with teeth can help. For decades, they’ve been sorely lacking. As a result, Israel literally gets away with crimes of war and against humanity, including ethnically cleansing Palestinians from all land it wants for Jewish only development.

Instead of acting responsibly for justice, world leaders support Israel’s worst policies. Palestinians pay dearly, especially Gazans suffocating needlessly under siege.

Moreover, according to former IDF head General (ret.) Yoav Galant, military action is needed to root out Gaza’s “terror infrastructure.” In other words, he urges mass murder.

In addition, Haaretz said Netanyahu cares only about power and “giving in to cronyism and vested interests.”

Like America, Israel’s decaying from within. Both countries use militarism, conflict and violence to solve problems. Popular needs go begging.

Palestinians and Israeli Arabs suffer horrifically. So do deprived and persecuted Americans. Both countries are global bullies. They’re rogue state partners in intimidation, state terror, and torment.

Their leaders are moral cowards. Calling them democracies is ludicrous and offensive. Nations that live by the sword, die by it.

Israel and America aren’t exceptions. Nor are others that learned painful lessons the hard way.

* Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at [email protected]. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon.

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