Catastrophic crisis in Gaza medical care
Gaza’s hospital stock running on near empty
Hospitals in Gaza are forced to cancel operations due to lack of medical supplies as the Israeli blockade continues.
Mohammed Omer 12 Jun 2011
Human rights groups in Gaza are urgently requesting that international aid groups and donor groups to intervene and deliver urgent medical aid to Palestinian hospitals in Gaza. Palestinian officials say that Gaza’s medicinal stock is nearly empty and is in crisis. This affects first aid care, in addition to all other levels of medical procedures.
Adham Abu Salmia, Gaza’s Ambulance and Emergency spokesman, says the medical crisis is acute and near catastrophic levels for patients within the health sector of Gaza. If shipment of medicines are not replenished to Gaza stocks in the coming weeks, he says it will worsen.
Dr Basim Naim, the minister of health in the de facto government of Gaza, says 178 types of necessary medications are at near zero balance in stock. He says more than 190 types of medicine in stock are either expired or are close to their expiry date, which has forced his administration to postpone several medical operations.
According to Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, the shortage in stock represents 50 per cent of the total medicine on the inventory of the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza.
The shortage of medicine in the Gaza Strip goes back to 2006 – after Hamas won the majority electoral vote in the Gaza Strip – when newly imposed Israeli sanctions brought cuts to the budget of the Palestinian Authority, preventing or delaying vital medical aid from getting through to Gaza.
Dr Naim announced the “emergency situation” on the shortage of medicines and medical supplies.
In a June 8 press conference he stated that his ministry “has been subjected to continuous humanitarian crises for several years … unlike previous medical crises, which affected a specific number of patients, these present crises will affect basic health service delivery for all patients”.
On May 10, Dr Hassan Khalf, deputy minister of health in Gaza told Al Jazeera that Gaza’s Al Shifa hospital had to cancel all scheduled operations on eyes, blood vessels and nerves due to the shortages of medicines.
“The crisis, exacerbated by the lack of medicines and essential items, has affected the delivery of service at Al Shifa hospital,” he said.
A press release published by Al Mezan Center for Human Rights stated that the current problem was due to the inability of the Ministry of Health to pay back loans from pharmaceutical companies. These costs are estimated to be around $56,263,000, of which the Ministry of Health is only expecting to be able to pay back $13,325,00 in 2011.
Over the past five years, Gaza’s Ministry of Health has complained that the shortage of medication is due to the Fatah government in Ramallah. Fatah are accused of not sending adequate medical supplies through to the Gaza Strip. Minister of Health Dr Naim, however, has also laid the blame on the shortfalls of the West Bank Palestinian Authority.
The Gaza Strip and the West Bank are ruled by competing governments, although they signed their deal in Cairo aiming to establish a new national unity government. Dr Naim says that the US and Israel exert pressure on the PA not to send medicines and medical supplies to Gaza in an attempt to weaken the formation of the new Palestinian national unity government.
Human rights groups agree that the crises have hit both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, due to the instability in foreign funding – and Israel refusing to issue taxes and revenues collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.
Officials at Gaza’s Ministry of Health say that the ministry imports the annual stocks of medicine each March. But, for the time being, supplies have not been replenished since 2010, and the shelves are almost empty.
Gaza’s main hospital has to receive all medical supplies from the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, because international donors prefer the PA to control all humanitarian budgets and deliveries, so as to avoid dealing with the Hamas-led government.
Al Mezan stressed that still, after five years, the inventory supply crisis continues within the Ministry of Health and is “very serious”. The centre says “it is urgent that we expedite work at the highest levels to develop policies and actions to address this crisis, and to ensure the availability of a sufficient stock of medicines and supplies to meet the needs of the Ministry of Health, under normal – and emergency – circumstances”.
Meanwhile, Dr Naim announced posponements of operations and medical procedures, including the issuing of ICU drugs, obstetric supplies, a suspension of much paediatric and ophthalmic surgery, cardiac catheterisation, and renal, orthopedic and neurological surgery.
The ministry of health is in direct contact with Egypt, Qatar, Turkey and “Middle East Quartet” – comprising the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia – in an attempt to get a prompt reaction and to “immediately lift the siege” imposed on the health sector, according to Dr Naim.
Needing ‘actions and not just words’
In Ramallah this week, 700 Palestinian doctors jointly resigned from their positions in hospitals across the West Bank. Health officials say that such a collective move is the first in Palestinian history.
These doctors, who went on strike prior to their resignation, are among 1,050 physicians who had requested dialogue with the minister of health in the Fatah government, Dr Fathi Abu Moghli. In a statement by the head of the Palestinian doctors’ syndicate in Ramallah, Dr Jawad Awwad said this collective resignation was due to Dr Abu Moghli’s policy of “humiliating doctors by failing and refusing to have dialogue, despite the strike lasting for 60 days”.
However, Dr Mounir al-Boursh, director of Gaza’s pharmaceutical department within the health ministry said his hospital is “helpless” due to the shortage of medical supplies, including analgesics, antibiotics, antiseptics, bandages and spare parts for electricity generators. The generators, which power cold-storage for blood, plasma and vaccines, are even more vital for hospitals in Gaza’s coastal area than elsewhere, as there are frequent blackouts.
Meanwhile, the Strip’s Hamas government announced that it would deduct five per cent from the salaries of its 40,000 Gazan employees to supplement the cost of medical supplies and medicines.
The health crisis involves more than medical supplies. Poorly equipped hospitals have forced many Gazans to seek medical treatment in the West Bank and Israeli hospitals, but this requires an exit permit for each patient to pass through the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing.
Recently, Israel denied access to ten-month-old Ismail Salameh, who was to receive medical treatment in an Israeli hospital, a process coordinated and financially covered by Ramallah’s health ministry.
Ismail has since been receiving medical treatment at al-Rantisi hospital in Gaza. “My baby is bleeding on his brain,” his mother said. “He requires an urgent transfer for medical treatment.”
Although Israel has given several hundred exit permits to patients who need medical treatment outside the coastal strip, Gaza health officials accuse Israel of delaying permits and keeping patients waiting longer than necessary.
Abu Salmia, the spokesman for Gaza’s Ambulance and Emergency Department, admits that Gaza’s health conditions are reaching a critical level, requiring “more action and not just words”.