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Report: PA to resume medical referrals for Gaza patients to leave territory

June 30, 2017 5:48 P.M. (Updated: July 2, 2017 10:16 P.M.)
(File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- After reports emerged that the occupied West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) had been preventing patients in the besieged Gaza Strip from exiting the territory for urgent medical treatment, the PA has reportedly agreed to resume their issuance of medical referrals needed for Gaza’s residents to receive Israeli-issued permits, Israeli media reported on Friday.

Despite consistently denying allegations that PA policies have exacerbated the medical crisis in Gaza, the PA and Israel have reportedly “reached a consensus” for the Palestinian Ministry of Health to “lift restrictions on financial commitments for Gazans’ medical treatment” as of Sunday, Haaretz reported on Friday.

Palestinians in Gaza had provided testimonies to Haaretz reporting “unexplained delays” in receiving referrals from the PA for medical treatment in Israel, Jordan, and the West Bank.

The reports came at the same time as patients in Gaza have been forced to apply for permits to exit the territory for treatment owing to the lack of medicine and equipment after the PA cut its funding to the medical sector in the besieged enclave.

Health care inside Gaza has also greatly suffered as part of the decade-long Israeli siege, with Israel limiting medical equipment allowed in and restricting travel for doctors seeking further medical training and specialization.

The PA is responsible for coordinating with Israeli authorities and providing medical referrals and financial support for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to exit the territory for medical treatment.

The PA had denied the allegations, saying that Israel was accountable for the deterioration of the medical situation in Gaza, by denying exit permits to thousands of patients via the Erez crossing so that they may be treated in hospitals in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.

Bassam al-Badri, head of the PA’s medical referral department in the southern district, had previously told Ma’an that only 50 percent of medical permits were approved as a result of the Israeli restrictions.

According to Haaretz, the PA also blamed Hamas, the de facto leading party in Gaza, for the crisis, alleging that Hamas refers patients in Gaza to access treatment in Israel even if they are not eligible for the referral, leading Israeli authorities to restrict the issuance of permits.

As a result of delayed medical referrals, three newborn babies in Gaza died after their permits to exit the territory were delayed or rejected.

Gaza officials have also noted that 11 patients had died over the previous three months as a direct result of not receiving medical permits.

In April, the number of referrals dropped below 2,000, whereas 2016 saw an average of 2,041 issued each month. In May, the number of medical referrals plunged to just a few dozen, according to data from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHRI).

More than 90 percent of patients in Gaza who requested such referrals over the past month did not receive a reply from the PA, while only 10 of the some 120 daily requests submitted to the PA have been getting approved, according to the data.

Recent PA policies have exacerbated the situation in Gaza, coupled with Israel's decade-long siege have created a humanitarian crisis in the territory, and some of the most affected are the sick.

Haaretz reported that a recent PHRI delegation to the Gaza Strip found that a shortage of Fentanyl, an anesthetic drug, was threatening to shut down every operating room in the public hospitals in Gaza, and that the cause for the shortage was due to the PA’s refusal to transfer the drug from the West Bank.

Reports emerged in May that vital medicines were not being sent by the PA to Gaza.

General-Director of Gaza’s Health Ministry Munir al-Bursch said last month that medicine had not been sent by the PA for three months, and added that 17 types of cancer medicines had completely run out in Gaza as of May.

PHRI said earlier this month that Gaza was facing the worst medication crisis in years due to the PA budget cuts, with the main victims of the crisis being cystic fibrosis patients, cancer patients, and infants with developmental deficits.I

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.

The PA has come under heated criticism in recent weeks by fellow Palestinians, the international community, and even right-wing Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, for intentionally pushing Gaza into a humanitarian crisis.

Such policies escalated this month when the PA decided to slash funding for Israeli fuel to the coastal enclave, and requested that Israeli authorities dramatically reduce its supply of electricity to Gaza, which was already reeling from lack of adequate access to electricity and fuel.

The PA caused anger in Gaza in April after cutting salaries to its Gaza-based employees by at least 30 percent, while the PA has also decided to discontinue payments to some 277 former political prisoners of Israel, which some have said targets former prisoners in Gaza and those affiliated with Hamas in the West Bank.

Despite the PA denying the allegations, it is widely believed among Palestinians and international critics that the PA’s recent policies in Gaza are aimed at putting pressure on Hamas to relinquish control of the besieged coastal enclave and hand over the territory to the PA.

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

“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.
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