The Minister of Health for the Palestinian Authority in Gaza is visiting South Africa to give the government, trade unions and pro-Palestine activists details of the growing health crisis in the besieged territory. It is believed that this is the first ministerial level delegation from Gaza to visit the country.
Dr. Bassem Naim took time out from his busy schedule to attend the annual convention of the Islamic Medical Association of South Africa in Johannesburg. Speaking to delegates at their annual dinner, he said that the situation facing the people of Gaza is catastrophic on many levels. The health sector, said Dr. Naim, suffers not only from attacks on its infrastructure by the Israeli occupation forces but also from a serious shortage of medicines and medical equipment due to the Israel-imposed siege. The lack of clean water is also a major issue for the hospitals in Gaza, as are the frequent power cuts and ongoing fuel supply problems.
"Kidney dialysis machines, for example," he told the IMA, "are breaking down because of the high salt content of the water available for drinking; it is like sea water." Getting spare parts is a major issue for everyone in Gaza, he stressed, but it has life or death implications for the health sector.
Thanking the people of South Africa for their support in the Palestinians' struggle from freedom from Israel's military occupation, Dr. Naim praised the IMA for its commitment to uphold the principles of medical ethics on helping people in desperate need.
"The people of Palestine are suffering," he explained, "but it is a great comfort to know that we have such dedicated supporters here in South Africa."
The minister pointed out that almost 300 items on the essential drugs list are unavailable in Gaza. "Patients are dying as a direct result of this siege," he said. In closing, Dr. Naim also mentioned the increase in congenital deformities and different kinds of cancers across the territory, blaming the Israelis' use of depleted uranium and other "heavy" munitions against the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.
The keynote speakers at the IMA conference were Professor Aly Meshal from the Islamic Hospital in Jordan, Hafez Muhammad Idrees from Pakistan, and MEMO's Senior Editor Ibrahim Hewitt. One of the local speakers, Muhammed Desai, addressed the importance of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as a peaceful but effective way to help the Palestinians in their struggle for freedom, just as the people of South Africa had been freed from the evil of apartheid by a worldwide BDS campaign.