Strike Takes Toll on Sick Palestinians

WEST BANK – A long-running strike by unpaid Palestinian civil servants, including doctors and nurses, is taking its toll on sick Palestinians who are being sent homes from hospitals because their cases are not "emergencies".

"Doctors can’t abandon the people. The only people suffering from this strike are the poor," Rania Hih, whose 10-year-old son broke his arm playing soccer, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Thursday, October 19.

"They’re all insane," she fumed after being turned home from the once bustling Al-Khalil hospital.

"Emergencies only," says duty doctor Abdullah Qowassim, a pediatrician.

"We’ll treat brain hemorrhages, severe fractures, acute abdomen problems, head traumas, emergency labor cases. Other than that, good bye."

Half a million Palestinians depend on Al- Khalil’s government-run Alia Hospital for health care, but today it sits empty.

After seven months of a US-led international aid freeze, tens of thousands of workers have gone on strike on September 2, paralyzing the Palestinian Authority and many government services.

Hamas, which cruised to the helm of power after a landslide election victory, has accused the once-dominant Fatah of orchestrating the strike to topple its government.

Striking doctors and nurses have forced Palestinians to turn to expensive private clinics or NGOs for medical care.

Since March, UNWRA has added 100,000 people to lists of recipient of food aid in the Gaza Strip. Some 830,000 people, 60 percent of the population, now receives UN aid.

The World Food Program provides additional assistance to 280,000 people out of Gaza’s total population of 1.4 million people packed into the crowded, impoverished Mediterranean coastal territory.

Politically Motivated

"Total strike. No Entry," read the sign on the emergency room door of the Al- Khalil hospital.

Scrawled beneath the sign in black marker is the message: "and whoever doesn’t like it can go talk to Haniyeh," a reference to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

"Things have spiraled out of control," said Yehya Shawar, head of the doctors’ syndicate, the union responsible for overseeing the strike.

"We tried our best to organize it to prevent as much damage to the people as possible, but I can’t say it’s completely under control."

The emergency-only system also drew fire from the World Health Organization officials.

"Nobody can define which cases are the life threatening emergencies and which aren’t," Fathi Abu Moghli, a WHO health officer in Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem) told AFP.

"A strike should have some limitations, it should at least allow access to primary health services."

WHO officials say they have heard unconfirmed reports of politically aligned doctors exploiting the system to provide medical care to political allies and refuse medical care to opponents.

"We fear the system is being abused."

Claiming Lives

Many innocent Palestinians have lost their lives because of the hospitals strike.

In Nablus, an elderly woman went to Al Watani hospital, suffering a host of chronic problems associated with old age, diabetes, severe anemia and, it later turned out, internal bleeding.

Doctors decided she did not need emergency care and turned her away. On her way to an NGO hospital, she died, according to the World Health Organization.

In a second case, a young pregnant was also turned away at the Rafidia Hospital also in Nablus.

Unable to afford the 1,000 shekel (235 dollar) fee for a private maternity clinic, she ultimately lost her baby.

©, October 19, 2006

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