Ref: 56/ 2019
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) and the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) held a joint conference on Wednesday, 27 November 2019 on “Gaza Strip’s Health Sector from a Human Rights Perspective.” The conference was attended by specialists from the Ministry of Health (MOH), and other international and local non-governmental organizations working on health.
The conference was executed under the joint project between PCHR and PMRS to promote, respect and fulfil the right to the highest attainable standard of health in the Gaza Strip. The project is funded by the European Union (EU) and continues for 3 years; it aims to improve access to health care services, legal counselling and legal assistance for a number of Palestinian patients; to mainstream the international human rights and humanitarian law, particularly the right to health, by building the capacities of national and international NGOs working in the health sector; and to promote improved monitoring, documenting and reporting of violations of the right to health.
Hamdi Shaqqurah, PCHR Deputy Director for Program Affairs, opened the conference and he highlighted the importance to promote health services from a human rights perspective, emphasizing that it is the essence of the partnership within this project. Shaqqurah added that the right to health carries significant obligations on responsible parties, Israel in the Palestinian scenario is directly responsible under the right to health; yet, it acts in disregard to its obligations by imposing an illegal and inhumane closure on the Gaza Strip, causing disastrous impact on all aspects of life, including deterioration of health sector. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is also responsible for the current situation, especially that the political division has had grave implications for the right to health as politics rendered civilians’ health subject to political whims.
Dr. ‘Aed Yaghi, PMRS Director, said that it is time for the international community and its organizations to act and bear their moral and legal responsibilities and provide protection for the Palestinian people as well as the medical crews working in the field. Dr Yaghi stressed that the right to the highest attainable standard of health and physical care is a fundamental right that shall not be prejudiced. He confirmed that Israel, as the occupying Power, is legally responsible for Palestinians, including their right to obtain the most attainable standard of health, physical and mental care without regard to the costs.
Mr. Ayman Fatiha, EU representative in the Gaza Strip, expressed that the Israeli imposed closure on the Gaza Strip and the overall deterioration of economic conditions hinder the ability to reach a health protection system, highlighting that Israel restricts patients’ freedom of movement to receive medical treatment. Mr. Fatiha pointed out that the EU, in cooperation with PMRS and PCHR, seeks to promote the right to access healthcare, legal consultations and legal aid for patients.
The first session, moderated by Dr Ghada al-Najjar, addressed the “Reality of Health Services in the Gaza Strip”. Dr, Bassam Zaqout reviewed the health conditions in the Gaza Strip, clarifying that future changes in population affect the level of planning for health services, which requires official efforts to enhance the level of healthcare services for the Gaza Strip population, who suffer from an increase in poverty and unemployment rates. Dr Zaqout emphasized that hospitals, healthcare centres and available staff are insufficient as each 100, 000 persons are served by 0.8 healthcare center, 1.4 doctors, and 0.1 specialist physician, which is insufficient compared to global rates.
Dr Fadel al-Muzaini, PCHR researcher, spoke about the Israeli imposed restrictions on patient’s treatment abroad and PCHR’s role in in providing assistance for patients referred for medical treatment abroad. Al-Muzaini laid out the Israeli authorities’ methods that aim at denying patients from accessing hospitals abroad. He also pointed out that since the Israeli imposed closure on the Gaza Strip, the Israeli authorities obstructed the travel of at least 60,000 patients while PCHR assisted 6000 patients, who were banned from travel for medical treatment and succeeded in obtaining a 40% approval rate.
Dr Mazen Zaqout, PMRS Board of Directors, called for building local capacities of medical services under a national strategy with a set timeline, and to form a national committee, that includes MOH experts and NGO representatives, to prepare and implement plans with a focus on the most sought after medical specializations such as tumors, cardiac and blood vessels. Dr Zaqout stressed that it is necessary to establish advanced medical services and recruit Palestinians and Arab experts.
Mr. Mohammed Lafi, Coordinator of the World Health Organization (WHO) Advocacy Project, stressed WHO’s role in supporting the health sector in times of emergency, pointing out that it is WHO’s mandate to support member States. Lafi added that WHO emergency group is active and provides support for MOH in monitoring the health situation and coordinates efforts to face the emergency conditions in the Gaza Strip. He added that despite all efforts, there is still a gap between the level and quality of the health services and the Gaza Strip population needs.
The second session was moderated by Mona al-Shawa, Head of PCHR’s Women’s Rights Unit. Dr Waleed Sabbah, MOH Director NGOs Coordination, talked about the health services provided for the patients of the Great March of Return (GMR), pointing out that the Ministry used all available ambulances at the 5 encampments to evacuate and move wounded civilians from the field to medical points and then to hospitals. Sabbah emphasized that establishing 5 medical points that are fully equipped on the eastern Gaza Strip border areas in the 5 encampments was intended to save the lives of the wounded civilians and relieve the burden on the emergency departments in hospitals.
Abdul Nasser Ferwana, Abdul Nasser Ferwana, Head of the Census Department at the Palestinian Ministry of Detainees, discussed the health conditions of Palestinian detainees in the Israeli prisons and the rising numbers of sick prisoners and prisoner deaths, as 67 prisoners died in the Israeli prisons due to poor health conditions and medical negligence.
Dr Ghada al-Najjar, Projects Manager at al-Ahli Hospital, demanded, in her paper titled: ” The Right to Access Health Services in Palestine: Violations and Political Perspectives to Face them,” for efforts to enable patients to refer to hospitals abroad and obtain the appropriate medical services for their illness, particularly providing medicines and medical consumables in addition to recruiting specialized doctors to carry out surgeries in the Gaza Strip hospitals.
Dr Saja Ftaihah, from PMRS, presented a documentary of the total Israeli attacks against medical crews and points in the period from 2009 – 2019. She hundreds of the Gaza Strip Health sector employees were killed or injured during these attacks, in addition to the damage in the healthcare centres and ambulances. Dr Ftaihah called for providing international protection for medical personnel under the international covenants.
In conclusion, a discussion was opened and participants called upon:
- The international community to put pressure on Israel to lift the imposed closure on the Gaza Strip to enable the health sector practice its duties by providing medicines and medical consumables for the Gaza Strip hospitals and recruit specialized doctors to conduct surgeries for patients;
- Localizing medical services under a national strategy with a set timeline and form a national committee that includes MOH experts and NGOs representatives to prepare and implement plans;
- End the policy of imposing severe restrictions against the Gaza Strip patients referred for medical treatment abroad and denied their right to travel and receive medical treatment;
- Immediately end the Israeli discrimination policy based on medical conditions differentiating between patients whose lives need to be rescued and patients who need to improve their lives;
- Open serious investigation into Israel’s crimes against Palestinian civilians, including medical crews, investigate in IOF use of prohibited weapons in accordance with the rules of international humanitarian law, prosecute the perpetrators, and bring them to justice.
- Put pressure on Israel to ensure adequate health care provided to prisoners in Israeli prisons, and provide immediate and urgent treatment to patients.
- Recommend compensation, redress for persons with disabilities (PWD) and demanded an immediate end to all IOF violations against them and to all attacks targeting their rehabilitation and education centres.
- Call upon the relevant governmental and civil society organizations to provide health and psychological assistance to PWDs, as well as technical and financial assistance to PWD rehabilitation centres operating in the Gaza Strip in order to ensure proper healthcare for persons with disabilities, especially those injured at GMR protests.