Health standards in the occupied Palestinian territories have badly deteriorated, exacerbated by Israel’s military occupation and stifling restrictions, a medical study found on Thursday, March 5.
"Since 2000, the occupied Palestinian territory has experienced increasing human insecurity, with the erosion and reversal of many health gains made in earlier years," says Richard Horton, editor of the highly-reputable medical journal The Lancet.
"These setbacks, together with the latest Israeli air and ground attacks on Gaza, have plunged the region into a humanitarian crisis."
The Israeli military juggernaut bombarded the densely-populated coastal enclave for 22 consecutive days, killing at least 1,300 people, mostly civilians.
The bombing targeted many hospitals and medical centers including al-Shifa, the largest hospital in the Gaza Strip, and Al-Wafaa Hospital for Disabled.
"Steep inequities in health between the West Bank and Gaza are now visible, inequities that began to appear long before Hamas won elections in 2006."
The two-year study, the most comprehensive ever assessment of Palestinian health, says many Palestinians don’t have access to care for chronic conditions such as heart disease and cancer.
It says tuberculosis rates rose by 58 percent between 1999 and 2003 while mental disorders were up by a third.
The study, the final in a five-part series, says infant mortality rates have not fallen since the 1990s.
"This is unusual when compared with other Arab countries that used to have similar rates but have managed to bring them down," said Dr Hanan Abdul Rahim, an expert from Birzeit University.
The study, the fruit of cooperation between Palestinian and international researchers, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other UN agencies, describes the Palestinian healthcare as "fragmented and incoherent."
"There are gaps in care," said Dr Abdul Rahim.
"There’s a low level of post-natal care and often it’s not given in a timely manner."
The medical study says at least 10 percent of Palestinian children have stunted growth.
"The trend for stunting among children is increasing, and the concern is about the long-term effects," notes Dr Abdul Rahim.
"It is caused by chronic malnutrition, and affects cognitive development and physical health."
The study notes that the problem takes larger dimensions in parts of the Gaza Strip due to prolonged food shortages.
"There are pockets in northern Gaza where the level of stunted growth reaches 30%. It’s very important that women and children have access to quality care."
Israel has been sealing off Gaza, home to 1.6 million Palestinians, since 2006, restricting food, power and medicine supplies.
The medical study blames the Israeli military occupation and restrictions for the disintegrated Palestinian healthcare.
It cites 69 cases of Palestinian women giving birth at Israeli checkpoints between 2000 and 2006.
It notes that 10 percent of women in labor were delayed for two to four hours en route to hospital because of Israeli restrictions.
The study criticizes the inefficient policies of the Palestinian Authority.
It says efforts to tackle chronic conditions like cancer and heart diseases were hampered by the "state of perpetual limbo on the national economy, strategic planning, healthcare policy formulation and national priority setting."
It highlights "the nature of the Palestinian National Authority, which has little authority in practice and has been burdened by inefficiency, cronyism, corruption and the inappropriate priorities repeatedly set to satisfy the preferences of foreign aid donors".
The study insists that the best-case scenario for improving the situation would include the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state.
"Although similar conditions exist elsewhere, in the occupied Palestinian territory they are exacerbated and perpetuated under conditions of military occupation."