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PCHR: Electricity cuts in Gaza put dialysis patients at risk

July 16, 2017 5:43 P.M. (Updated: July 16, 2017 6:25 P.M.)
Yasmin Abu Kashef, 20, "hoping the electricity will not cut while she is on the dialysis device." (PCHR)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- More details have continued to emerge regarding the dire state of the medical sector in the Gaza Strip, as the besieged coastal enclave has been coping with a severe medication shortage on top of an electricity crisis that has forced hospitals to significantly reduce services.

Amid an increasingly bitter feud between the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) and Gaza’s de facto leading party Hamas over control of the territory, the PA has cut funds for Gaza’s electricity supplies, medicine, and also halted or delayed medical referrals needed for Palestinians to access life-saving treatment outside the territory.

As Gaza’s two million residents have been forced to cope with just three to four hours of electricity a day since mid June, one of the most severe consequences has been experienced in hospitals, where generators can only partially compensate, with regular fallouts interfering with treatments.

The impact of the medicine shortage on cystic fibrosis patients, infants with developmental deficits, and cancer patients has been documented, and on Sunday, the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) reported that blackouts have also had a particularly negative effect on the provision of dialysis treatment.

A power cut causes an interruption of the blood cycle rotation during dialysis, PCHR’s report explained, meaning that the blood is kept within the machine, which leads to coagulation and a waste of blood, then to a blood shortage that leads to severe health complications and even death, depending on the patient’s condition.

Muhammad Shatat, the head of the dialysis department at Gaza City’s al-Shifa hospital, told PCHR that during a three-hour blackout, when the generator had run out of gasoline, one patient's’ blood clotted and required a blood transfer.

“If this would happen on a regular basis, the patient would die after two or three days,” Shatat explained.

Blackouts also “affect the dialysis devices themselves and can damage them or make them entirely useless,” Shatat said.

The hospital currently has 45 dialysis machines and treats 328 patients.

As a result of the decade-long Israeli siege, electronic devices needed to repair dialysis machines are not available in the Gaza Strip and need to be acquiring from international donors, which can take six to 12 months.

The delays have also had a strong psychological and social effect on dialysis patients, PCHR noted, adding that a large number of the patients do not live in Gaza City -- the only place they can receive treatment -- and many risk their lives traveling to the hospital.

Shatat conveyed the case of one patient who lives near Gaza’s border with Israel, who needed to schedule appointments early in the day after an incident in which she returned home late at night and Israeli soldiers fired at her car. “These people risk their lives when they come to us for a delayed treatment,” Shatat emphasized.

Medicines for dialysis patients are also in short supply, such as the biotin hormone, a lack of which leads to anemia. “In the severest cases, a lack of medical supplies essential for the dialysis treatment can lead to an interruption of the dialysis and lastly to an intervention of the ICRC or other international organizations,” PCHR said.

The report noted that in addition to the impact on health care, the humanitarian situation in Gaza has also been marked by reduced environmental health services, including water supply and sanitation.

Reports emerged Saturday that 73 percent of beach waters off Gaza’s coast have become contaminated due to the electricity crisis.

“According to international humanitarian law, Israel as the occupying power is responsible for guaranteeing the occupied civilians’ access to basic services, including electricity, health care, and water, and by not doing so is violating international law,” PCHR said.

PCHR is among a growing number of rights groups and international organizations to raise alarm over the situation in Gaza, with a recent United Nations report warning the situation there could already be “unlivable.”

On Wednesday, Physicians for Human Rights - Israeli (PHRI) reported on the ongoing denial of permits for longtime medical staff at an occupied East Jerusalem hospital who live in Gaza, showing that the crisis in the enclave had repercussions for Palestinians across the occupied territory.

“These limitations placed on the freedom of movement of long-term staff impact the functioning of the hospital and the ability of Palestinian patients to access the right to health,” the group asserted.

“The Palestinian public health system functions as a united system, and the limits set by Israel on the movement of doctors and other medical staff between Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem impede the smooth running of the hospital.”

Leftist PLO faction the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) warned on Saturday “of a complete breakdown of the conditions of life, existence, and health in the Gaza Strip, as a result of the collective punishment policies adopted by the Palestinian Authority.”

“The price paid by the Palestinian people at the moment in the Strip is much more valuable than any partisan gains or narrow factional achievements by a party attempting to achieve this or that by manipulating the lives of innocent civilians,” the political party wrote.

The PFLP said it also blamed the United Nations and international institutions “for their silence and inaction on the Gaza Strip while vital services like electricity, water, and health are disrupted and threatening a disaster for the lives of thousands.”

The PFLP emphasized that “the (Israeli) occupation is responsible for all of these crimes,” and warned that continuing the 10-year-old siege on Gaza would lead to a “popular explosion” against the occupation and “against all those who contribute to the escalation of the suffering of our people.”
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