Gaza's Health Ministry Warns: Palestinian Authority to Stop Sending Medicine, Baby Formula to Hospitals

‘This decision has destructive implications for the chronically ill and children,’ a ministry official says, adding he sees Ramallah's decision as a political one

Palestinian patients arriving for treatment at Shifa Hospital, Gaza's largest public medical facility, March 2017.
MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS

The Palestinian Authority is to stop providing medicines and baby formula to hospitals in the Gaza Strip, which could have disastrous consequences for residents in the Strip, the Health Ministry in Gaza warned Tuesday.

The director general of the Gazan Health Ministry’s pharmacy department, Dr. Munir al-Bursh, was quoted on a number of Palestinian websites identified with Hamas as saying this was a political decision. He is in contact with senior officials in the Health Ministry in the West Bank to determine the meaning of the decision – which was announced by Ramallah on Tuesday – and how long it will be in effect, he said.

“This is a decision that has destructive implications for the residents [of Gaza], and in particular for the chronically ill and children,” said Bursh.

A serious shortage of medicines has developed in recent days, because the last shipment of drugs arrived in the Gaza Strip three months ago. Such shipments are usually made every two months.

Bursh said hospitals in the Gaza Strip have already reported a severe shortage of 17 types of medicine for treating cancer patients, and this will have a serious effect on patients who need such drugs daily – such as cancer patients or those on dialysis.

“Ninety percent of cancer patients have no drugs today in Gaza, and many patients will need to go to Israel to receive their doses,” Bursh added.

Palestinian patients in the emergence room at Shifa hospital, Gaza City, March 2017.
MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS

Haaretz reported last month that the PA was taking a number of steps to punish the Hamas government in Gaza, and that the PA intended to reduce health expenditures in Gaza this month.

These steps have been approved by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, after Hamas established its own administrative unit to run Gaza, which led to direct confrontation with the PA government in Ramallah. The first move was when Abbas reduced the salaries paid to PA employees in Gaza by some 30 percent, as well as stopping payments to Israel for the electricity it provides to Gaza.

PA spokesman Yusuf al-Mahmoud told Haaretz that Abbas had said he would take action regarding health payments, but Mahmoud did not know of any decision regarding medicine or infant formula for hospitals in Gaza.

A senior official in the Health Ministry in Gaza told Haaretz it is not completely clear at this stage whether it is a long-term political decision not to provide the medicines to Gaza or just a temporary delay, in order to deliver a message and increase the pressure on Hamas.

Last week, Abbas signed an order canceling the payment of public fees to various government ministries and public services in Gaza, such as for health and education. Although this move would seemingly benefit the people, the assumption in Gaza is that it’s meant to embarrass Hamas, which collects taxes and fees for all services in the Gaza Strip but keeps the money for the organization’s own coffers.

Abbas announced a few days ago that he would continue taking such difficult steps against Hamas in Gaza, in order to apply pressure on the group and force it to decide whether it will govern fully by itself, or do away with its new administration and cooperate with the PA and end the split.

This would include establishing a Palestinian unity government, transferring control of the Gaza border crossings to the PA, and holding elections for president and the parliament within six months.