x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Reaching out to help children in pain

UAE joint initiative aims to provide specialist medical care and desperately needed prosthetic limbs to Palestinian youngsters.

Islam Samouh, a 10-year-old patient, and his aunt, Souad Samouh, arriving in Dubai from a village near Hebron.
Islam Samouh, a 10-year-old patient, and his aunt, Souad Samouh, arriving in Dubai from a village near Hebron.

DUBAI // Seven sick and deprived children in need of prosthetic limbs arrived in Dubai last night from the West Bank to begin their medical treatment. A further eight had been due to arrive from Gaza but had not received approval to leave. It is hoped they will arrive next week. The children have been brought to the Emirates in a joint initiative by the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Humanitarian and Charity Establishment and the Palestine Children's Relief Fund as part of a project to provide medical care to children from the Palestinian Territories.

They will be treated at hospitals around the city and will have their first consultations today. Thirteen-year-old Hanan Nazal was born with a congenital disorder that left her without a right leg from the knee down. She is unable to walk unaided. Her 10-minute walk to school with the aid of two sticks is painful. The teenager from Jenin has come alone, her mother having just given birth to twin girls, but she is unperturbed by the journey.

"I'm so excited that I'll finally be able to walk and stand. I just want to be free of pain. I've waited so many years for this and I know that I'm so lucky. I wish the other sick children in Palestine could all be so lucky." It is her first time abroad and she has seen many photos of Dubai. "I'll finally see the places I've only ever seen pictures of before," she said. Islam Samouh has only one arm. The 10-year-old from Hebron lost his right arm just below the shoulder last year after suffering an electric shock while trying to place a Palestinian flag on the roof of his home.

After several surgeries to try to save his badly infected and injured arm, doctors had no alternative but to amputate. The medical expertise and resources to save it were not available. He has had to learn to write all over again with his left arm, but has fallen behind in his school studies. Friends have shunned him and he longs to be like his peers once more with the help of a prosthetic limb. He still plays football, the one pleasure he has in spite of his accident. He hopes to visit the cinema while staying in Dubai.

"I am a little nervous about the operation but I am so happy I was lucky enough to be brought here," he said. Islam's mother is pregnant, so her sister Souad has come to care for him. Ibrahim Bumelh, the vice president of the Sheikh Mohammed charity, was among the delegation who received the children as they arrived at Dubai Airport yesterday. He said: "These children are the first of many who we will bring to the Emirates for treatment. This will be one of our ongoing projects as we hope there will be many more children we can bring here for help.

"I hope to see these children all leave with smiles on their faces and those who are in wheelchairs now, walking as they board their flight home." Referring to the eight youngsters prevented from making the trip, Hussein Abdul Khaleq, the Counsel General for Palestine in Dubai said yesterday: "It is very sad that the children of Gaza could not come due to the political circumstances they are experiencing. These children are the ones who ultimately suffer.

"They need medical care but sadly this is something which affects so many children in Gaza. It is not just their freedom which is restricted but their access to medical care." The Palestine Children's Relief Fund founder, Steve Sosebee, also came to Dubai to help ensure the smooth running of the operation. It is the largest group of children that the US-born activist has sent at one time to the UAE.

"We are so pleased to be working with the Sheikh Mohammed charity. Their help is invaluable to us and is so important for these children," he said. It is understood that a further 15 Palestinian youngsters will arrive for treatment in the next few weeks. Mr Sosebee first became involved with children in the Palestinian Territories when he was working as a freelance writer in the West Bank during the first intifada in 1989. He set up the relief fund in Ramallah. The charity - which has 14 volunteers - has brought many foreign experts to help train medical staff in the territories' poor and under-resourced medical facilities, as well as taking hundreds of children abroad for life-saving surgery.

Mr Sosebee said his work became a lot easier after the Oslo Accords, when the responsibility for health care was given to the Palestinian Authority. "It became easier to bring doctors from abroad to volunteer in local hospitals," he said. "It meant we could offer services on the ground which had previously been totally unavailable. "We identified so many deficiencies in the health care system which needed to be addressed. Pretty much every kind of surgery a child needs was not available."

Half of the charity's donations come from the US while the rest come from the Gulf region. Around 70 per cent of those donations are from UAE-based donors. Since the charity began, 850 children from Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria have been sent abroad for treatment. A total of 10,000 children have been treated in the last 10 years in the Palestinian Territories. mswan@thenational.ae