GAZA. It is increasingly difficult for children with cancer to be treated outside the Strip

by Eliana Riva –

Foreign Pages, 29 July 2022 – In 2021, 32% of requests for access to care for boys and girls were in hospitals outside Gaza slowed or rejected by Israel. A 15% increase over 2021. And minors who manage to get permission to leave the strip to receive treatment at specialized clinics are often forced to leave the strip without their parents, who are not allowed to leave Gaza themselves to accompany them. This is the condemnation of Doctors for Human Rights, a humanitarian organization that collaborates with Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, a non-governmental organization that deals with the right to health in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Lynn is a 6-year-old Palestinian girl who was diagnosed with cancer when he was only 3. He has been receiving treatment at an Israeli hospital in Tel Hashomer for some time. During one of the long stays six months due to invasive surgery, the child went without his parents: both Israel rejected the request for accompaniment. Her mother and father were only able to reach her after the intercession of Doctors for Human Rights-Israel.

“We receive dozens of requests for help from families in similar circumstances each year – says Aseel Aburass, coordinator of Palestinian freedom of movement in the OPT and in the department of the mobile clinic Doctors for Human Rights Israel (PHRI) – Israel’s policy and its impact on parents’ ability to stay with their children and comfort them during difficult treatment is the subject of a summary document that we have recently published“.

Health is almost exclusively depending on Israel’s permit regime. The Israeli blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip has enormous consequences for all parts of its residents’ lives. The state healthcare it is certainly one of the most troubling questions. That block it also affects the training of doctors, refresher courses, access to medical equipment, whose access to the strip along with medicine and much more is often prohibited by the authorities of the Jewish state. Added to this are the tensions between Hamas and the Palestinian National Authority which affects budget earmarked for health in Gaza. The same Doctors for Human Rights documented in 2018 that cystic fibrosis patients in the Strip were at risk of dying from the blockade of medicine, that 90% of cancer patients were not receiving adequate treatment, and that there were hundreds of children with deficit of growth due to lack therapeutic milk.

In 2018, the incidence of cancer in the Gaza Strip was among the worst in the world, almost doubling the number of cancer patients in Israel. The situation was worse for children, who accounted for 11% of the total number of cancer patients the average incidence in the rest of the world (for girls and boys aged 14 and under) was 1%.

The high incidence of cancer in the Gaza Strip is due to several reasons. Environmental pollution is widespread due to the lack of sewers and plants, which were destroyed and often never rebuilt after the airstrikes; the pollution from radioactive and toxic substances that the bombings brought about is very high. But in addition to the very high number of cancer patients, the mortality rate is also above average. A study coordinated by Aviano Cancer Reference Centerfunded by the Italian Ministry of Health under the program EUROMED Cancer Networkborn to favor oncology networks in extra-European Mediterranean countriesshows that the former causes of high mortality for cancer patients in the Gaza Strip is “the closure of the Israeli and Egyptian borders and the difficulties in delivering chemotherapy and material used for radiotherapy. Five years after diagnosis, only 65% ​​of Gazan women diagnosed with breast cancer between 2005 and 2014 were aliveexplains Diego Serraino, CRO Director of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and Scientific Director of the research – A much lower percentage than in most countries bordering the Mediterranean: in Italy, for example, around 90% of women are alive 5 years after the diagnosis of breast cancer.

Gaza. Water network damaged by Israeli bombing. Photo by Michele Giorgio

In 2020, Save the Children condemned that delay in granting permits care from the Israeli authorities was the cause of death of girls and boys which, very small, needed immediate care, not only of an oncological type, but also related to malformations heart and other kinds of difficulties in childbirth.

With the pandemic off COVID-19 the permit situation is aggravated: Before 2020, about 2,000 people sought health care outside Gaza per month. In April 2022, 159 requests were received. The lowest number in the past 10 years. Despite this, a third of the applications were still rejected by the Israeli authorities.

The 6th of July Palestinian Center for Human Rights condemned the death of a Gazan man suffering from cancer following the refusal of the Israeli authorities to issue a transfer permit. Jihad Mousa Humaidan Al-Qedra55, was expected to undergo tests and treatments urgent in a hospital in Nablus, i West Bank but a month after submitting the application for a travel permit for health reasons, Israel announced that the application was still under security checks.

According to PHR – Israel also the rate on refusal of requests from parents to accompany their children has increased from 28% in 2020 to 35% in 2021. “This situation – concludes Aseel Aburass – should outrage the Israeli public in general and the Israeli medical community in particular. Accompanying parents, especially when the child is fighting for his life, it should be obvious. Unfortunately, it has become a norm that the Palestinians’ right to health, especially in Gaza, is always subscription, always subject to Israeli decisions. We confront the victims of this cruel reality every single day”.

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