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Occupied Lives: Cutting the life line

 

 

Shahinaz
Khouf is a mother of six and has been suffering from renal failure for nearly 2
years. Her illness requires her to visit Al Shifa hospital three times a week
to undergo hemodialysis treatments.

 

However,
Shahinaz has not been receiving the required three dialysis sessions every
week, as a result of a critical shortage of medical supplies in the Gaza Strip.
“I feel a lot of fear, knowing that I don’t receive enough dialysis and this
will affect my health condition”, says Shahinaz. She fears further unnecessary
deterioration of her health. “During the weeks that I receive two instead of
three treatments I feel tired and not well”, she explains. “After I was
diagnosed with renal failure, I also developed a heart condition.” She realizes
her condition is aggravated but is powerless. Without receiving sufficient
dialysis sessions her heart condition also worsens, as her heart becomes over
exerted. The cutting back of dialysis sessions in the unit in Al Shifa hospital
affects the health of another 450 patients who need to pay regular visits to
the hemodialysis unit.

 

Beside
Shahinaz sit her husband and daughter. Both of them say they are worried about
the health consequences of her inadequate medical treatment. Calcium is no
longer available in Al Shifa but can still be found in private pharmacies.
However, the family belongs to one of many who are facing unemployment.[1] “We
are trying to balance our money between purchasing food and expensive calcium
tablets”, says Shahinaz’s husband.

 

Dr. Shatat,
the Director of the Dialysis Unit at Al Shifa Hospital, expresses his
frustration over the fact that patients are denied medical care. Pointing to
one of the dialysis machines he says “the lives of the patients are linked to
these machines. The patients feel as if their lives are taken because of the
shortages.”

 

“We only
receive a drop of supplies”, says Dr. Shatat. “Central line catheters, blood
lines, needles, and sodium bicarbonate (powder needed for a hemodialysis
machine), which are indispensible for the functioning of dialysis machines, are
all at a critical stock level.” Another concern is the shortage and (near)
depletion of essential medicines needed for the treatment of kidney patients in
Al Shifa and other Ministry of Health[2]
hospitals in the Gaza Strip, including calcium and heparin. When available in
Ministry of Health hospitals such as Al Shifa, these medicines would be
provided to the patients free of charge. Some of the depleted medicines can be
found on the private market but because of the dire economic situation and
widespread unemployment caused by the illegal closure of the Gaza Strip, many
patients are unable to purchase medicines at private pharmacies.

 

Mohammed
Nounou, Director of Medical Supplies, further explains the critical impact of
the shortages on the hemodialysis treatment; “statistical data on shortages
don’t tell the whole story. It’s about the type of items that are missing. The
lack of one specific item can stop the entire treatment. Kidney dialysis is a cycle.
If you take out one element, the cycle of treatment stops.” According to Nounou
hospitals are now trying to manage by rescheduling dialysis sessions and
reusing disposables.

 

The case of
the dialysis unit is not an exception. Grave medicine and medical (disposable)
items shortages have paralyzed the entire health sector in the Gaza Strip since
2007. The Ministry of Health has recorded a fluctuating but chronic shortages
of items listed on the essential drug and disposables lists. Since January 2011
the Ministry recorded that at any given time between 120 and 180 out of the 480
essential drugs were at a zero stock level. During the same reporting period
between 140 and 200 from the total of 700 essential disposables were at a zero
stock level.

 

An important cause for the worsening
essential drug and supplies shortages are the insufficient deliveries from MoH
Ramallah to Gaza.
Since 2007 the Ministry of Health in the
Gaza Strip has been receiving far less than the agreed quantities of medical
supplies from the Ministry in Ramallah. Mohammed Nounou urges those responsible
for the current deadlock to put political issues aside. “The patients should
not be suffering because of political reasons.” Shahinaz says she hopes “people
will listen to her outcry” as she is “just an ordinary person who wants to
live.”

 

As the
occupying power Israel is under the legal obligation –in case the existing
resources in the oPt do not suffice- to provide and ensure a free and secure
flow of all medical consignments to the Palestinian population.

 



[1] According to UNRWA the
unemployment rate in Gaza
has now exceeded 45%.

[2] MoH Gaza: Ministry of
Health, which operates 80% of the hospitals and clinics in the Gaza Strip. 

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