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A Deep Concern About Health System in Gaza

The United Nations on Wednesday said it was “deeply concerned” about the deterioration of the health care system in the Gaza Strip due to Israeli closures of the Hamas-ruled territory.

A year after Israel’s devastating offensive in Gaza the borders of the impoverished territory remain mostly sealed, preventing hundreds of patients each month from leaving to receive timely advanced care, officials said.

“We are deeply concerned about the current health system in Gaza and in particular its capacity and ability to deliver proper standards of health care to the people of Gaza,” UN Humanitarian Coordinator Max Gaylard said.

“This adverse situation is not like Haiti. Haiti has been destroyed by an earthquake,” he told reporters at Gaza’s main Al-Shifa hospital. “The circumstances here are entirely man-made and can be fixed accordingly.”

Israel tightened sanctions on Gaza in June 2007 after the Islamist Hamas movement seized power, sealing the territory of 1.5 million people off from all but vital humanitarian aid and strictly limiting travel into and out of Gaza.

The Israeli military would not immediately comment on the UN allegations but has said in the past that it is allowing humanitarian needs to be met while putting pressure on Hamas, which won 2006 legislative elections but is blacklisted as a terrorist group by the West.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the embargo has led to shortages of certain drugs, delayed or prevented the entry of vital equipment and spare parts, and kept doctors and nurses from pursuing advanced training.

“Gaza has a reasonably decent health care system, quite a sophisticated health care system. It’s not, if you like, a third world country in this respect,” said Tony Laurance, the WHO head for the Palestinian territories.

“But you cannot run a system of this kind, a modern health care system, in isolation from the international community.”

The lack of certain kinds of advanced care meanwhile forces hundreds of Gazans to seek passage to Israel each month for treatment there or in third countries, but many are denied or receive no response.

In December there were 1,103 applications for advanced care with 21 percent of applicants declined, and 27 patients died while waiting for Israeli permits in 2009, according to the WHO.

“If that happened in my country, in the UK, in Europe, in Israel, if an individual who needed urgent treatment was unable to get out because of a bureaucratic obstacle, it would be a scandal,” Laurence said.

“Here it happens to 300 or 400 people every month.”

One such patient was Fidaa Hijjy, an 18-year-old woman diagnosed with Hodgkins disease who applied for a permit to be treated in Israel on three occasions last autumn but did not receive any response.

She died on November 11, two days after her last missed appointment at an Israeli hospital.

“The day of the funeral we got a call from the Palestinian liaison office saying the Israelis agreed that we should make a fourth appointment,” Amal Hijjy, one of her relatives, told reporters.

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