I received an urgent call recently from a hospital in the Gaza Strip, telling me that a child who is only a few months old needs an urgent operation or else he will suffer kidney failure. The child's parents cannot afford their daily expenses or cover the cost the operation; without hesitation, I agreed to pay for the operation.
This happened while I was sitting with my friend Adham Abu Salmiya. He suggested that we organise a campaign to "Save Gaza's patients" in order to shed light on the horrendous situation facing Palestinians on hospital waiting lists who are victims of the Israeli-led siege. We posted a request on social media for volunteers to sponsor such treatment. Our initial goal was to sponsor five operations, but in under 48 hours we had sponsors from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Jordan giving enough money to pay for 30 operations in Gaza. As well as the high number of shares on social media, we had some media coverage on satellite television, which gave the campaign a boost. This was reinforced by the credibility of the team in Gaza and the speed in which the operations were performed. That's only part of the story; what about the rest?
The Gaza Strip has been under a land, sea and air blockade for more than 13 years that has had a negative impact on the ability of the health sector to provide adequate services due to the chronic shortage of medicines and medical supplies. The medical stores have a deficit of more than 30 per cent of normal stock, sometimes even higher. Moreover, medical devices break down or get out of date and cannot be repaired or replaced. Lengthy power cuts on a daily basis combined with a shortage of fuel for emergency generators have a major effect on hospitals' ability to perform operations and keep essential equipment running, such as dialysis machines and incubators. Most of the hospitals in Gaza are on the verge of shutting down.
All of this means that the waiting lists get longer every day. Some patients have had their operations put back until 2020. Those who require urgent treatment have to resort to private and charity-run hospitals, but have difficulty in paying the fees. Gaza has more than a million people reliant on humanitarian aid. The people are crushed by the ruthless siege and a high rate of unemployment which makes them unable to meet their daily needs, let alone urgent and emergency medical costs.
I will never forget the day that one patient called me; he was weeping and told me that he had gone for a check-up at the eye hospital in Gaza and was scheduled for an operation at some time in the future, despite his poor sight. With no other option available, he agreed to wait his turn for six months. Nearer the operation date, the hospital informed him that his operation was being rescheduled and delayed for another six months. Due to his old age and near blindness, he was forced to go to a private hospital. Even though the latter offered to perform the operation at half price, he did not have enough money to feed his family, so could not afford the treatment. His wife's one piece of gold jewellery had been sold to pay towards his daughter's university fees. He did not ask me directly for the money, but asked me to help him find someone who could cover the costs of his operation.
Try to imagine his daughter's feelings when she learns that her father lost his sight while the family's meagre savings were used for her degree studies. Or how the father would feel unable to watch his beloved daughter graduate. These thoughts went through my mind, and I decided to cover the operation costs.
The poor patients' fund is one of the top five priorities for humanitarian organisations operating in the Gaza Strip. This has gained even more importance with the increase in the number of Palestinians wounded in the Great March of Return protests, many of whom need complex surgery. According to the Ministry of Health, almost 6,000 people have been shot in the leg by Israeli snipers using with live ammunition, resulting in 50 per cent suffering from open fractures. Most of the others have serious damage to soft tissue.
The Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, patients and their families alike, are waiting for your help; action speaks louder than words. We must all take responsibility to do something positive to help. Those in need must be able to see and feel our solidarity so that they know that they have not been forgotten in the midst of so much unrest across the region. We simply cannot and must not leave them alone, desperate in their pain and unable to do anything about it. Saving Gaza's patients is a duty that we must all share.
This article first appeared in Arabic in the Palestinian Information Centre on 4 February 2019
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.