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Gaza facing 'worst medication crisis in years,' rights group says

June 14, 2017 4:34 P.M. (Updated: June 15, 2017 1:38 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- In the wake of a decision by Israel to approve a request by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to drastically reduce electricity supplies to the Gaza Strip, an Israeli human rights organization has raised the alarm over what it described as the worst medication crisis facing the besieged coastal enclave in years, with the main victims of the crisis being cystic fibrosis patients, cancer patients, and infants with developmental deficits.

According to Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI), the medication crisis came as the result of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) gradually cutting its budget for Gaza healthcare and medical supplies over recent months, which reached “an unprecedented low" in May.

Information gathered by PHRI from Gaza’s Health Ministry showed that the regular monthly budget had been $4 million, which dropped to $2.3 million in April, and to a mere $500,000 in May -- affecting the regular operations of 13 government hospitals and 54 primary care centers.

According to PHRI, one-third of essential medicines and more than 270 medical equipment items for operating rooms and intensive care units can no longer be obtained in the the health ministry’s storerooms or in Gaza’s hospitals.

Due to the severe medicine shortages, over 320 cystic fibrosis patients are in mortal danger, 240 infants with developmental deficits do not receive therapeutic milk, and 90 percent of cancer patients do not receive full treatment, according to the report.

“In the Gaza Strip, there are 321 (cystic fibrosis) patients who require 40,000 Cryon pills, but the storerooms are completely empty and the supply level reached zero” PHRI quoted Ashraf al-Shanti, chairman of the Association of Cystic Fibrosis Patients in Gaza, as saying.

A father of two children who both have cystic fibrosis -- a 14-year-old and a nine-year old -- told PHRI: “My daughter cannot get out of bed, and I doubt whether she would be able to survive more than a year in this condition. Akram, who also suffers from constant coughing due to the irregularity of inhalation treatments, is in danger of suffocating.”

Gaza's Health Ministry said Monday after news broke that Israel approved the electricity cuts, that the medical sector has already been struggling to provide diesel fuel to operate the 87 generators that supply electricity to hospitals during blackout hours.

Head of the radiology department for Gaza's public hospitals Ibrahim Abbas also said Monday that diagnostic radiology equipment that has been provided over the last ten years -- at an estimated worth of $10 million -- would soon fall into disrepair due to their sensitivity to blackouts.

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza must be a wake-up call for everyone able to solve the problem,” PHRI Executive Director Ran Goldstein said.

“Gaza’s children have become hostages in the political game played by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and Israel. The change must be dramatic and immediate -- providing funds, medicines, and electric power, opening Gaza to the outside world and offering urgent humanitarian assistance,” Goldstein added, echoing remarks made by UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the occupied Palestinian territory Robert Piper Wednesday.

The UN official had called on the PA, Hamas, and Israel to equally take the “necessary measures to avoid further suffering,” in Gaza, saying that, "The people in Gaza should not be held hostage to this longstanding internal Palestinian dispute” -- reiterating an argument offered by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who also said the crisis was an “internal Palestinian issue.”

However, rights groups have contested the narrative that the crisis is merely a political and financial feud between the Fatah-dominated PA and the de facto Hamas-led government in Gaza.

Israeli NGO B’Tselem in a statement released Tuesday evening echoed previous arguments that the Israeli government was not just a neutral service provider, but was chiefly accountable for the fate of Palestinians in Gaza, who as of this week have been under Israeli military blockade for a decade.

B’Tselem denounced the decade-long Israeli military blockade on Gaza for “consigning its residents to living in abject poverty under practically inhuman conditions unparalleled in the modern world.”

"This is not some sort of natural disaster. Had that been the case, Israel would have likely sent in a humanitarian aid mission,” B’Tselem said. “Instead, the reality in Gaza is the result of Israel’s handiwork, achieved by its decade-long implementation of a brutal policy. Israel can, and must, change this reality.”
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