The rift between the two main Palestinian movements – Fatah which controls the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and Hamas which controls Gaza – has impeded the availability of health care in Gaza, say officials.
“The health ministry in Ramallah [West Bank] has refused contact with the health ministry in Gaza since Hamas took control in June 2007,” said Gaza health ministry spokesperson Hamam Nasman: “Only 24 percent of the medicine and medical supplies allotted to Gaza under the 2008 PA budget were received.”
All referrals abroad for medical patients in Gaza were halted after Hamas took control of the PA’s Referral Abroad Department in Gaza on 22 March, said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). As a result, thousands of patients with serious and complicated conditions have been affected, said sources in the Gaza health ministry.
UN Humanitarian Coordinator Max Gaylord and the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a joint statement on 30 March expressing serious concern, while the WHO in Gaza has been mediating between the Gaza and Ramallah health ministries to resolve the crisis.
The WHO in Gaza estimates that each month between 800 and 1,000 patients in Gaza require care abroad.
“The ministry is in a political and financial crisis,” said Gaza health ministry spokesperson Nasman: “After we changed the staff of the Referral Abroad Department due to corruption, the PA in Ramallah stopped funding patient care.”
Some 1,000 patients, including at least 300 in a critical condition, are registered with the Gaza health ministry to travel abroad via Rafah (on the Gaza-Egypt border) for healthcare. The Gaza government can provide financial cover for 600 of those registered, said Nasman.
The facilities and expertise to treat serious conditions such as renal failure and cancer are not available in Gaza, according to the Gaza health ministry.
Israel and Egypt will not allow patients to exit Gaza unless they have been approved by the PA in Ramallah, according to OCHA.
A desperate crowd of family members gathers outside the Gaza health ministry every morning pleading with ministry officials to facilitate health care abroad.
“My mother, 62-years-old, has been waiting 40 days for permission to leave Gaza [via Rafah] for open-heart surgery at Al-Nasser Hospital in Cairo,” said Walid Qandel, unemployed. “I am not sure if the government will pay for her care, and she is in a critical condition.”
The Gaza health ministry is still sending applications to Israel for patient care. All have been denied, said the ministry, while the Egyptian authorities have been sending back patients who try and exit via Rafah.
“The situation for the patients in intolerable. While we recognise there are problems in the coordination, we think Israel has a duty to allow the patients who need emergency treatment to enter for care,” said the director of the occupied Palestinian territories department of the Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, Tami Sarfatti.
The Hamas authorities have said there are at least 1,800 pending applications for new passports, including nearly 500 for people needing to travel abroad for medical care, according to OCHA.