|Palestinian doctors treat wounded children in a hospital following an airstrike by Israeli warplanes in Beit Lahia, northern Gaza Strip, on April 23, 2014. (Photo: AFP- Mohammed Abed)|
The last thing that the Palestinian Authority did for cancer patients in Gaza is reducing the budget allocated for their treatment, according to a source from Basmat Amal Society for Cancer Care in Gaza. He told Al-Akhbar that “the person responsible for this decision is the undersecretary of the Ministry of Health in Ramallah who took charge of the ministry while the health minister is abroad. This happened after the association discussed the reasons for reducing the number of cancer patients being treated abroad and conveying the message to us that way.”
The undersecretary justified reducing the budget for the treatment of cancer patients in Gaza by the need to “mitigate the ministry’s financial crisis and ease the burden of paying for the treatment of cancer patients in Gaza.” But for the people suffering from cancer, the decision was a catastrophe.
At the same time, patients in Gaza have no access to the medication they desperately need for their treatment. Even under normal circumstances, there are 45 kinds of cancer treatments that are not available in Gaza. Not to mention that from time to time, the Ministry of Health in Gaza declares acute shortages of medecine.
Aya Abdul Rahman is a 26-year-old young woman. She got cancer as a result of taking reproductive hormones under the supervision of a physician who - by mistake - ruined her marital and social life. She told Al-Akhbar: “My suffering began when the supervising doctor gave me hormones which caused me to have seven internal tumors but the doctor did not admit that he made a mistake. Nevertheless, today, I am on the list of cancer patients in Gaza.”
Aya expresses great frustration at the treatment she received at the Hamas health ministry when she went there to ask for a transfer order. The patient transfer department told her that based on her physical appearance she is in good condition, therefore, she is not a priority for receiving a transfer order.
She says: “I know that a lot of patients do not get transfer orders because their cases are really difficult with no hope of recovery. I need three rounds of treatment every once in a while, currently I go out for only one of them.” She points out that the date of her treatment scheduled at Israeli hospitals is approaching but officials in Gaza refuse to give her the needed transfer order.
Thirteen thousand patients
Trying to explain the situation, Dr. Mohammed Hamdan from the human resources department at Basmat Amal Society for Cancer Care in Gaza said that the societal view of patients in Gaza affects the way they are treated.
Hamdan explains that a cancer patient costs the state and society a huge amount of money without hope of recovery. “That is why, in general, not all medications are provided for them, but what complicates matters is that the Gaza government believes that its counterpart in Ramallah should shoulder the expenses of treating cancer patients.”
The position of the Gaza Ministry of Health, according to inside sources, is that its counterpart in Ramallah is primarily responsible for transfers of cancer and other patients, while the ministry in Gaza cannot interfere in any transfer orders. “Besides, some cases are rejected by the Israeli side.”
About the rate of cancer in the Gaza Strip, the ministry in Gaza said that it is still “within global averages monitored by international health organizations.” The director of the health information systems unit at the ministry, Radwan Baroud, said that the rate of cancer patients in the Gaza Strip provinces is 81.7 cases for every 100 thousand citizens.
Dr. Hamdan however told Al-Akhbar: “The Ministry of Health in Gaza did not conduct a statistical survey of the number of cancer patients in the strip because they do not have the experience to do so but the Basmat Amal Society came up with a relative estimate indicating that the number is somewhere between 12.5 thousand and 13 thousand which is considered a high rate and is increasing without a solution on the horizon.”
The shocking reality mentioned by the doctor is that the number of oncologists in Gaza is no more than four. “Besides, there is no network to protect doctors against the actions of some families even though they know how difficult it is to treat their loved ones so doctors prefer to transfer patients to Israeli hospitals to die there instead of in Gaza to avoid pressure from families.”
He argues that this has become a way to protect the doctor and the Ministry of Health. “Sometimes a patient whose condition is hopeless is transferred at the last minute, at a time when the priority should be given to patients at the beginning stages of cancer who require special care.”
Having connections in Gaza is not enough
Aya was not the only patient suffering because she was not given a treatment transfer. Khalil Ahmed (a pseudonym) is the father a five-year-old boy with cancer. He refuses to give his real name because, as he says, he needs both governments [in Gaza and Ramallah] to treat his son.
The story of this man began when his son got brain cancer. He had a medium cancerous mass that caused him acute pains. The father had to turn in an application form, which is the basic form for transfers. He did not know that he has to have connections in order for this application to go through. He was surprised that he needed to have connections at the Ramallah Ministry of Health as well to speed up the acceptance and implementation of the transfer application.
Ahmed tells Al-Akhbar: “After using my connections in both places, my son went once for treatment with the hope of going again.” He added: “I was somewhat lucky because many people are caught between the Gaza and the Ramallah ministries when they need a signature on one paper for the form. Having connections at both places saved my son from the fate of many patients whom I see dying in front of me as they wait for their transfer orders.”
What hurt Ahmed the most was a remark made by a doctor at a children’s hospital who told him that his attempts to treat his son are futile because death awaits all cancer patients. He concludes his story: “In addition to the fact that there is no health institution suitable for the treatment of cancer patients in Gaza, we do not experience proper treatment of these patients. I am still running between different laboratories and every diagnosis is different from the one before. I feel as though my son has died while he is still in my arms.”