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Saturday, 23 January 2010

The ongoing tragedy of Gaza

The blockade of Gaza is proving a long drawn out tragedy that only occasionally comes to our attention in the mainstream media. The moral issues that it raises are rarely confronted plainly given Israel's tight control over access to the territory. There are few opportunities to listen to the voices of the ordinary citizens of Gaza.

A report this week headlined The blockade is killing Gaza say NGOs and UN spells out the dimensions of this long drawn out human tragedy. Leaving aside for a moment the broader economic and social impacts of the blockade the impacts on the health system are confronting.

The lack of building materials as a result of the blockade is affecting essential health facilities: the new surgical wing in Gaza's main Shifa hospital has remained unfinished since 2006. Hospitals and primary care facilities, damaged during operation 'Cast Lead', have not been rebuilt because construction materials are not allowed into Gaza.
Operation 'Cast Lead' damaged 15 of Gaza's 27 hospitals and 43 of its 110 primary health care facilities were either damaged or destroyed.
Supplies of drugs and disposables have generally been allowed into Gaza – though there are often shortages on the ground. However, certain types of medical equipment, such as x-ray equipment and electronic devices are very difficult to bring in. Clinical staff frequently lack the medical equipment they need. Medical devices are often broken, missing spare parts, or out of date.
Health professionals in Gaza have been cut off from the outside world. Since 2000, very few doctors, nurses or technicians have been able to leave the Strip for training necessary to update their clinical skills or to learn about new medical technology. This is severely undermining their ability to provide quality health care.
Many specialised treatments, for example, complex heart surgery and treatment for certain types of cancer, are not available and patients are therefore referred for treatment to hospitals outside Gaza. But many patients have had their applications for exit permits denied or delayed by the Israeli Authorities and have missed their appointments. Some have died while waiting for referral.
Tony Laurance, the Head of Office for the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the West Bank and Gaza, declared: "An effective health care system cannot be sustained in isolation from the international community. Open borders are needed to ensure the health of the 1.4 million people in Gaza"

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