Today the 4th of June is the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression.
We have been covering this aspect for the entire week and whilst children are suffering as a result of aggression in many countries of the world, the Palestinian children are from amongst the worst off.
As far as the effects that this blockade, illegal occupation, theft, indiscrimination, violent attacks and bombardment has had on the Palestinian child, we have already covered two aspects viz. Schooling disruptions and malnutrition. Today we will take a look at another critical effect, Medical care.
The health care system in Palestine, though it is a caring, educated and productive one, struggles to provide adequate services for the population. In part, this is because of the interconnectedness of the health care system with other social systems like education, food production and utilities, as well as the high levels of unemployment, poverty, conflict and displacement in the region.
The World Bank reports a poverty level of 26 percent in the region, along with an unemployment rate of 15 percent in the West Bank and 47 percent in Gaza. The difficult conditions in which many Palestinians live exacerbate the shortcomings of the health care system and make it more challenging for Palestinians to access quality health care when they need it.
Health Care in Palestine
Health care professionals in Palestine work tirelessly to care for the large population. But several factors impede the effectiveness of their work and prevent Palestinians from accessing quality medical care.
The Palestinian public health system lacks sufficient infrastructure to serve the enormous population in need of medical care. Years of restrictions on imports — the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza in particular — have left the Palestinian hospital system with critical shortages of supplies like medical equipment, prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications and protective gear. Ongoing conflict has also left many hospitals and clinics in disrepair, and restrictions on goods make it difficult to procure supplies for rebuilding.
Electricity and water shortages also impede the health care industry in its work. Electricity in both Gaza and the West Bank can be intermittent and unpredictable. The lack of reliable electricity makes it even more difficult to care for patients — even where medical equipment exists, doctors cannot always operate it. The lack of running water also leads to challenges in maintaining sanitary medical facilities.
The personnel infrastructure is limited as well. Palestine suffers from a shortage of family medicine doctors, especially those who practice in children’s health. Specialty fields such as neurology, oncology, paediatric surgery and psychiatry suffer heavy personnel shortages. In part, shortages arise because doctors who want to specialize in these fields must leave Palestine for training and do not always return once their education is complete. Medical care in both the West Bank and Gaza suffers from physician shortages.
Palestinian Refugee Camps
Health care in the West Bank and Gaza faces significant challenges in extending quality medical care into the refugee camps. Palestinians represent the world’s largest displaced population. Thousands of refugees live in camps in Gaza and the West Bank — about 500,000 in the West Bank and 200,000 in Gaza, all crowded into small spaces with minimal services. Ninety percent of refugee families in the West Bank, along with 100 percent of refugees in Gaza, report that their children are not in good health. Poverty, poor sanitation, lack of electricity and running water, food insecurity and minimal medical facilities all contribute to health issues in the camps.
Permits and Restricted Travel
The Palestinian health care system faces barriers in the form of permit restrictions that limit Palestinian access to health care. Restrictions on access and movement are common in Palestine, and they make access to health care incredibly difficult. Many specialized hospitals are located in East Jerusalem, but Palestinians are often denied permits to travel there, even to receive desperately needed medical care.
Gaza health care is severely affected since Gaza is subject to particularly heavy restrictions. These restrictions on travel have a crippling effect on patient care. Nearly one out of every five Gaza patients who apply for a visa to get medical care in East Jerusalem, Jordan, Israel or even the West Bank receives a denial or experiences a significant delay. But restrictions on travel limit the accessibility of West Bank health care as well.