Gaza’s hospitals: Bring your own medicine

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In the summer of 2005 when I was visiting my family in Gaza, my 3 year old niece, Roa, had an incident and I took her to the local hospital. The doctor told us he could not see Roa, who was bleeding from her head, because it was a non-life-threatening case and he sent us home. As we needed to get medical attention to Roa, I remembered the local mosque had a clinic and since it was few blocks away from the PA-run hospital, we went there. This Doctor was professional, gracious and upbeat. He took care of Roa in a minute and treat her injuries and we’ve paid about a dollar for his services. The clinic was run by a Hamas group that was then not part of the government. I was pleasantly surprised with the service and care we received at this medical clinic.

But fast forward now to the year 2010, when Hamas is the de facto government of Gaza and you will see a different image of the crumbling health care system under this current government. I have been reading a number of news reports about the crisis facing the health care system in Gaza and especially the Strip’s largest hospitals. As I was writing this article, I spoke to a number of relatives and friends in Gaza to verify those reports.

Palpress reports the story of Tamer, a 14 year old school boy who was hit by a car on November 4th  on his way back from school. He now rests in Gaza hospital, but his family reports that it took a doctor 36 hours  to see their child. Worse,  when the nurse came to take care of his injuries, the nurse instructed the family to go to the nearest pharmacy and purchase bandages, gauze pads, roller bandages, and silk tape so that their son can be cared for. The nurse said that his hospital is out of stock of those items. Of course Tamer’s family made a number of trips to the nearby pharmacy and picked those items up. Another patient confirms that the nurse asked them to purchase non-latex gloves so that he can use them to do his job.

The Gaza government’s Director General of Pharmacies, Dr. Muneer Albarash, confirms that Gaza lacks 100 kinds of medications and 160 kinds of other medical supplies. Of course he points fingers to the Ramallah government for not sending in those supplies, especially in the last two months.

But when I spoke to a number of relatives, they confirmed that the local pharmacies are not short on medical supplies and medications where people now go to purchase what they need when they need it. “When I pick something up from the pharmacy, it reads ‘not for sale’, or ‘donated by this government or that’ ” said Mohammad, a relative of mine.

Dr. Albarash seems to deny the accusations that his government sells donated medical supplies to raise money. “Those are unfounded rumors.” Instead he said that the Health Ministry in Ramallah only sent 37 percent of Gaza’s allocated medical supplies. That may be true, but the government in Gaza received a lot of medical supplies from many entities and groups such as the UAE Red Crescent and the Arab Physicians Association. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if the cash-strapped government sold some of those supplies to make payroll.

When it comes to health care, there are things that Hamas has done right. For example, Gaza has a few specialist doctors who used to run their own shows and charge patients an arm and a leg for, say, back surgery. Those dozen specialists were making a killing, but they are unable to meet the demand for their services and their prices were too steep. Solution: Hamas made those doctors act as mentors to local physicians and surgeons to train them in carrying out back surgeries. As a result, instead of having one doctor that does those surgeries, there are a dozen of so of those trainees who benefited from this program.

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