|The News Line: Feature
Tuesday, 11 July 2017
Cuts threaten lives of Gaza cystic fibrosis children
TENS of Palestinian children being treated at a Gaza City hospital for cystic fibrosis are facing possible imminent death, relatives and medical sources have said, amid what rights groups described as the worst medication crisis the besieged Gaza Strip has seen in years, stemming from debilitating budget cuts by the Palestinian Authority (PA).
The PA has been the centre of widespread condemnation in recent weeks for its policies in Gaza aimed at putting pressure on Hamas to relinquish control of the besieged coastal enclave and hand over the territory to the PA.
The main victims of the current medication crisis are cancer patients, infants with developmental deficits, and hundreds of cystic fibrosis patients, according to a report last month from Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI). Information gathered by PHRI showed that the PA’s regular monthly budget for Gaza medical supplies had been $4 million, but dropped to $2.3 million in April, and to a mere $500,000 in May.
As a result, one-third of essential medicines and more than 270 medical equipment items for operating rooms and intensive care units have vanished from the health ministry’s storerooms or in Gaza’s hospitals.
Chairman of the Association of Cystic Fibrosis Patients in Gaza Ashraf al-Shanti has said that over 320 cystic fibrosis patients are in mortal danger. He said the patients require 40,000 Cryon pills, but storerooms were already completely empty as of mid-June.
The parents of young cystic fibrosis patients being treated at Abd al-Aziz al-Rantisi hospital west of Gaza city said that the life-saving medication has become a ‘distant dream,’ and also reported that alternative medicine being provided by the Palestinian Health Ministry is actually worsening the conditions of their children.
Muhammad al-Yaqoubi, the father of six-year-old cystic fibrosis patient said that his son’s illness has drastically deteriorated since the medicine disappeared from storerooms and hospitals in the small Palestinian territory, which is meanwhile struggling to cope with just a few hours of power per day as a result of an agreement between Israel and the PA to slash electricity supplies.
‘I used to take my son to al-Shifa Hospital to get the medicine, but it has been unavailable for the last six months. The ministry of health provided an alternative for the medicine, but it only made my son’s condition grow worse,’ al-Yacoubi said.
The man said that his son is facing the possibility of death ‘at any moment.’ Al-Yacoubi’s first son, who also had cystic fibrosis, died for want of treatment when the family could neither find medication in Gaza nor obtain Israel permission to leave the blockaded coastal enclave for treatment at Israeli hospitals. The father demanded that the competent authorities solve the medicine crises and ‘not to involve medical patients in political conflicts.’
Umm Moyad Moussa, the mother of a child who suffers from cystic fibrosis, said that the alternative medicine provided by the ministry of health is half as effective as the original medicine, particularly for young children. She said most children are unable to swallow the new, bigger pills, which, when ground or broken up lose their effectiveness, and also risk irritating the respiratory and digestive system.
The head of cystic fibrosis centre Ashraf al-Shanti reiterated that the 321 cystic fibrosis patients in Gaza could die at any moment for need of medication and insisted that the alternative is ‘not a proper treatment’. Al-Shanti demanded all international organisations operating in the Gaza Strip intervene to help provide adequate medication ‘before it’s too late.’ He said a similar medication crisis in 2007, when Israel first imposed its crippling blockade in Gaza following Hamas’ rise to power in the territory, resulted in the death of seven children who were unable to acquire cystic fibrosis medicine.
Healthcare inside Gaza has greatly suffered as part of the decade-long Israeli siege, with Israel limiting medical equipment allowed in and restricting travel for doctors seeking further medical training and specialisation. Before Israel implemented the electricity cuts at the request of the PA last month, Gaza’s medical sector had already been struggling to provide diesel fuel to operate the 87 generators that supply electricity to hospitals during blackout hours.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza also warned that diagnostic radiology equipment worth an estimated $10 million would soon fall into disrepair due to their sensitivity to blackouts. In addition to the PA’s budget cuts to medication and fuel, reports also emerged that the PA has been preventing Palestinians in Gaza from leaving the territory for medical treatment.
To leave Gaza via the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing to receive treatment in the occupied West Bank, Gazans must first apply to the PA before applying to Israel. Spokesperson for Gaza’s health ministry spokesman said that at least 11 people, most of them children, have died since the beginning of the year as a result of refusal of travel permits to them by either Israel or the Palestinian Authority.
In April, the number of vouchers issued by the PA dropped below 2,000, whereas 2016 saw an average of 2,041 vouchers issued each month. In May, the number of vouchers issued plunged to just a few dozen, according to data from PHRI.
More than 90 per cent of patients in Gaza who requested such vouchers over the past month did not received a reply from the PA, while only 10 of the some 120 daily requests submitted to the PA have been getting approved, according to the data, published by Israeli daily Haaretz.
Despite consistently denying allegations that PA policies have exacerbated the medical crisis in Gaza, the PA and Israel reportedly said they ‘reached a consensus’ for the Palestinian Ministry of Health to ‘lift restrictions on financial commitments for Gazans’ medical treatment,’ Haaretz reported at the end of June.
‘The humanitarian crisis in Gaza must be a wake-up call for everyone able to solve the problem,’ PHRI Executive Director Ran Goldstein said last month. ‘Gaza’s children have become hostages in the political game played by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and Israel. The change must be dramatic and immediate – providing funds, medicines, and electric power, opening Gaza to the outside world and offering urgent humanitarian assistance.’
• Dozens of Palestinian journalists organised a protest outside of the Palestinian prime minister’s office in Ramallah on Saturday, urging both the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the occupied West Bank and Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip to immediately release all imprisoned journalists.
The protest came after PA forces arrested Jihad Barakat on Thursday, a journalist who works for the Beirut-based TV channel Palestine Today.
Barakat was detained in the northern occupied West Bank district of Tulkarem after he took photos and filmed Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s motorcade passing an Israeli-controlled military checkpoint. His detention has since been extended at least until Sunday. Protesting journalists said the prime minister''s office had turned down their request to hold a meeting with Hamdallah.
Director of Palestine Today Farouq Ulayyan said during the protest that Jihad Barakat ‘did not break the law in any way whatsoever,’ and criticised the PA’s statement on the detention that said two Palestinian ‘youths’ were arrested for ‘violating laws on filming,’ and did not mention that one of the detainees was a well-known journalist.
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