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Cutbacks Crippling Palestinian Health Service

photoFormer Irish News Review reporter Keith Falkiner has recently returned from a trip to Palestine. During his trip Keith met with some journalists in Gaza who were keen to tell their stories to an English speaking audience. Here’s a story by Keith and Gaza based reporter Ahmed Dalloul on the health service crisis in the region.  

WE all grumble about the state of the health service in Ireland.

But spare a thought for the 1.8 million people crammed into the Gaza Strip, where hospitals have to deal with chronic power outages, a shortage of medication and where even the staff are rarely assured of getting paid for their crucial, life-saving work.

Gaza-based journalist Ahmed Dalloul reports for Irish News Review on the Palestinian enclave’s two main hospitals, Beit Hanoun and Al-Shifa – where both are on the verge of complete breakdown.

The two hospitals were the target of attack during Israel’s recent 50-day military onslaught on Gaza ,but as Ahmed reports, there are deeper, underlying issues that are affecting the future operation of both hospitals.

First is the thorny issue of the new unity government in Palestine, which will see Gaza’s ruling group Hamas share power with the Palestinian Authority, who hold sway in the partitioned country’s West Bank area.

However, whatever unity has been forged so far between Hamas and the PA, little of it is being shown to the health service in Gaza.

A staggering 40,000 civil service staff currently working in Gaza, who were employed after Hamas came to power in 2007, have not been fully paid since the unity government was first formed five months ago.

Ahmed reports: “The health sector in Gaza is suffering from many crises that are putting the lives of hundreds of patients at stake, because both the local officials and the international community do not respond positively to solve these problems.

gaza

The hospital in Beit Hanoun, close to the border with Israel in northern Gaza, has declared stoppages to its scheduled surgeries, and has warned that its services will come a complete standstill due to a fuel crisis in Gaza.

“The hospitals in the strip need 700,000 litres of fuel each month to power generators that cover the shortage brought about by the 18-hour power outages that effect Gaza each and every day.

The hospitals administrators have called the officials in the Ministry of Health of the Palestinian Unity Government to provide the necessary fuel to run the generators, but they so far haven’t responded.

The shortage of fuel is not the only crisis that the hospitals in Gaza strip suffer from, with officials in Beit Hanoun confirming that a shortage of food means it will have to suspend meals for patients.

Respected Gaza medic Dr. Ashraf Qidra said that this succession of problems is strangling the health service, adding that vulnerable patients are the inevitable victims from this.

Meanwhile, just last week thousands of workers in the health sector participated in a protest in front of the Ministry of Health in Gaza calling for an end to the crippling cutbacks.

Chief amongst their concerns is the fact that tens of thousands of them have not been paid for the past five months.

It appears these staff, employed during Hamas’ reign in Gaza, are the victims of political manouvering by the new unity government, which is chiefly headed up by the Palestinian Authority.

The PA fail to recognise the 40,000 staff in Gaza, who turn up for work every day, as State employees, due to the fact they were not officially employed by them.

At the same time, Hamas also relinquished its responsibilities for paying these staff when the new unity government was formed.

The protests proved to have some success this week, when 24,000 of these civil servants were finally paid, after UN trucks from Ramallah in the West Bank brought €24m in cash to Gaza.

Gaza justice ministry worker Hana al-Abssi said the payment was “a positive step for all employees.”

However it is only a first, tiny step in the right direction in trying to repair the ailing health service in an increasingly crisis-ridden Gaza.”

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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