UN Launches Service to Facilitate Medical Transfers From Gaza to Israel, West Bank

World Health Organization will act as temporary liaison to circumvent coordination freeze between Israel and PA which, along with tightened Israeli restrictions, has prevented Gazans' access to medical treatment

Jack Khoury
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A room of the intensive care unit is seen empty of patients due to power shortages at Durra hospital in Gaza City, February 6, 2018.
A room of the intensive care unit is seen empty of patients due to power shortages at Durra hospital in Gaza City, February 6, 2018.Credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS
Jack Khoury

The United Nations has launched a special temporary service to arrange for patients from the Gaza Strip to receive medical treatment in Israel, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the organization’s Middle East envoy announced on Monday.

This is the first time the United Nations has gotten involved in the issue. It did so because many Gazans have not been able to arrange urgent treatments in the months since the Palestinian Authority ceased all cooperation with Israel. The PA had previously served as the liaison between patients and the Israeli authorities.

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Nickolay Mladenov, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said the new arrangement will be run by the World Health Organization. The WHO will essentially serve as a liaison between the Israeli authorities and the PA’s civil affairs committee, which is responsible for forwarding patients’ requests to Israel.

After the PA ended its cooperation with Israel in May due to Israel’s plan to annex part of the West Bank, which has since been shelved, human rights organizations tried to take over the liaison role.

Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, which played a leading role in this effort, said it handled 263 requests for treatment by Gazans from May through August, five times more than it usually does. Of these, 103 were from cancer patients (including 20 children) and 59 were from parents seeking to accompany their children to treatment.

Israel has tightened its criteria for allowing patients to enter or transit the country in recent months, the organization said, and now does so only for patients whose conditions are defined as urgent. It has approved only half the requests submitted, PHR added, and has also delayed patients at the Gaza-Israel border crossing.

Ran Goldstein, PHR’s executive director, said he was skeptical that the United Nations and the WHO could resolve the crisis. “Every day, hundreds of patients do not leave for medical treatment because they didn’t get a permit, or even a reply to the requests they submitted, and have consequently missed vital treatments,” he said. “Every patient should be allowed to leave Gaza for treatment with no delays and no bureaucratic hurdles.”

In addition, foreign professional associations and medical organizations have contacted Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and the Israel Pediatric Association seeking to provide Palestinian patients from Gaza access to treatments that are not available to them. The requests from the organizations – the British Medical Association, the European Academy of Pediatrics and the Geneva-based International Society for Social Pediatrics & Child Health – follow evidence of a decline in the ability of hundreds of Gazans to obtain medical care outside of the Gaza Strip since the PA halted coordination with Israel.

Two of the requests, which were directed to the Israel Pediatric Association, related to the difficulty that children from Gaza have in getting medical care. In its request, the European Academy of Pediatrics cited figures showing that only half of the requests submitted by Physicians for Human Rights in July and August were approved. It also referred to the cases of two Palestinian infants who died of illnesses after failing to reach hospitals outside of Gaza. The Academy asked that pediatric patients from Gaza be given “swift and safe access to medical treatment in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Israel.”

In its request, the International Society for Social Pediatrics asked the Israel Pediatrics Association to do everything possible to remove barriers to free access to medical care for patients from Gaza, particularly children. In response, the chairman of the Israeli pediatric organization, Prof. Shai Ashkenazi, said he had approached the Israeli Health Ministry on the issue and considers provision of such treatment to be critical.

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