x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Factional rivalry prevents Gazans from seeking medical treatment

Sick Gazans are being denied medical treatment outside the territory as a result of the continued rivalry between Hamas and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority.

NEW YORK // Hundreds of sick Gazans are being denied access to hospitals outside the territory as a result of the continued rivalry between Hamas and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. UN health officials have warned that infirm Gazans - including some of those wounded during Israel's three-week military offensive into the coastal strip - could die without treatment abroad.

The Palestinian Authority, which operates from the West Bank, has refused to approve applications from Gazans seeking treatment abroad since Hamas took control of the bureaucratic procedure last month. "We have already seen referrals affected, and patients will die if they do not receive the treatment they require," said Tony Laurance, the region's World Health Organisation (WHO) acting head. "We are very worried about the situation."

The WHO, together with the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for the West Bank the Gaza Strip, Maxwell Gaylard, called for an urgent reversal of the decision but have yet to receive a positive response. On March 22, Hamas officials in Gaza assumed control of the health ministry department that assists Palestinians requiring treatment that is unavailable in the territory's 27 struggling hospitals. Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah have since refused to approve or fund Gazans' requests for treatment outside the territory, and Israel and Egypt will not allow them to exit unless they have such documents.

The patient referral crisis is just the latest episode in a long-running feud between Fatah and Hamas, the movement that wrested control of Gaza from Fatah in June 2007. "It is not acceptable for essential patient care to be stopped because of an internal political dispute or unilateral steps," Mr Gaylard said. "We call for a rapid solution to be found among the parties concerned to enable referrals to resume and patients' rights to be protected - and for Hamas to reverse their decision so that a way forward can be found."

The UN said as many as 1,000 needy Gazans are being denied access each month to treatment in hospitals in Israel, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Egypt and Jordan. A spokesman for the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said the group has begun monitoring hundreds of people who require treatment unavailable in Gaza and warned that "the health of many of these patients is deteriorating". The spokesman called on both Hamas and Fatah "to act on their legal and moral responsibilities to save the lives of these patients, including civilians who sustained injuries during the recent Israeli military offensive in Gaza".

"These men, women and children are being denied urgent medical treatment to which they are entitled." This is understood to include a range of such complex cancer treatments as chemotherapy and radiotherapy as well as specialist care for 57 children who were receiving treatment at Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital. Patients are instead turning for treatment in Gaza's overwhelmed hospitals, more than half of which were damaged during Israel's 22-day attack on the territory that ended with a unilateral ceasefire on Jan 18.

The coastal strip's beleaguered healthcare system is out of stock of 52 important drugs and urgently needs 144 others before September or patients will go without, the WHO said. The total estimated cost of the medicine is US$4.8 million (Dh17.6m). jreinl@thenational.ae