A team of Italian surgeons and nursing staff led by Stefano Lewis has carried out complicated open-heart surgery on a six-year old Palestinian child in the European Hospital in the Gaza Strip. The operation repaired a hole in the child's atrium which has been present since birth. Described by the doctors as "successful", this kind of operation is apparently one of the most difficult to perform.
This was the first time that an operation like this has been done in Gaza. Patients generally have to be referred to hospitals in Egypt or Israel.
The Italians' presence in Gaza was welcomed by the Ministry of Health. Spokesman Dr Mohammed Al-Kashef said that such visits by foreign specialists help not only patients in desperate need but also the training of local doctors, expanding their skill base. This one operation, he added, will help to reduce the number of patients who have to go abroad for their treatment, which is very expensive for the patients and the ministry.
"We agreed with the Organisation of Caring with Palestinian Children, headed by the famous heart surgeon Dr Stefano Lewis, to come and help us in Gaza," said Dr Al-Kashef. "The organisation is to dispatch a delegation of specialist surgeons and it is going to stay in Gaza for one year."
Al-Kashef added that the delegation will bring all the equipment needed for open-heart surgery. It will also bring other equipment needed for training Palestinians doctors for the future. "A formal agreement to this effect will be signed in the next few days."
Dr Lewis's group includes a full surgical team of doctors, nurses and anaesthetists. It will be in Gaza until 21st April and will perform several tricky operations during its stay.
This is not the first such delegation which has provided medical and surgical assistance to the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. A French delegation visited the besieged territory last month and carried out 22 operations on patients who have lost one or more limbs during Israeli attacks. Also in March, another medical team operated on cancer patients who have spent their money and time on travelling overseas for treatment and chemotherapy.