While much attention has been focused on the cutbacks to Gaza’s electricity, testimonies from the Strip indicate that for the past two months the Palestinian Authority has also been blocking Gaza patients from leaving the Strip for medical treatment.
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Gazan Palestinians are reporting unexplained delays in receiving permits from the PA in Ramallah to leave the Strip for treatment in Israel, Jordan or the West Bank. These testimonies have been reinforced by data received by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, indicating that the PA Health Ministry has stopped facilitating this treatment for Gazans.
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According to the data, the PA has delayed issuing payment vouchers for more than 1,600 patients from Gaza, including patients with cancer and heart disease, and children who need treatments unavailable in Gaza. More than 90 percent of patients who asked for these vouchers during the past month are still waiting; of the 120 or so daily requests being submitted to the PA Health Ministry, only around 10 get approved.
By contrast, in 2016 an average of 2,041 payment vouchers were issued to Gaza patients every month. The first sign that something might be amiss came in April, when for the first time since 2016 the number of vouchers dropped below 2,000. In May the number of vouchers issued for Gazans plummeted to only a few dozen. The PA Health Ministry, meanwhile, denies there has been any change in policy or in the number of vouchers issued.
Patients and their families are worried. “In the media everyone’s focused on the electricity but the story with the approvals for medical treatment is undoubtedly of concern to many people, and the problem is that no one is providing answers,” said a human rights activist.
Aisha Majdalawi, 14, from the Jabaliya refugee camp, suffers from a vascular disease that affects the blood flow to her liver and spleen. For 10 years her treatments at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv were funded by the PA. She missed her June 21 treatment, however, because the PA Health Ministry refused to issue her a payment voucher. Her treatment has been rescheduled for July 31 and she is once again waiting for the voucher.
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“My daughter’s condition is deteriorating to a life-threatening state,” said Aisha’s father. “I go every day to the Health Ministry in Gaza in an effort to get the referral; I’ve tried pulling strings in Ramallah and I don’t know what else to do to get my daughter to her treatment in Israel.”
Over the weekend, a PHR-I delegation visited Gaza for the first time since the electricity and drug-supply crisis intensified in early May. The five volunteer physicians performed surgeries in Shifa Hospital in Gaza City and in the European Hospital in Khan Yunis. They brought with them some 300,000 shekels’ (almost $85,000) worth of drugs and medical equipment and consulted with patients at several clinics in the Strip.
The delegation learned that a shortage of the anesthetic drug Fentanyl is threatening to shut down all the operating rooms in Gaza’s public hospitals. Gaza medical sources say the shortage stems from the PA’s refusal to transfer the drug from the PA Health Ministry warehouses in the West Bank.
“Every time we enter Gaza the situation looks worse,” said Salah Haj Yahya, who organizes the medical delegations for PHR-I. “The solution to the crisis must be immediate – the transfer of funds, electricity and drugs, opening Gaza to the outside world, free movement for residents and immediate humanitarian aid.”