Thousands of Gazans trek to Cairo for medical treatment

Thousands of Gazans are taking advantage of an open border crossing with Egypt since 1 June to seek treatment for a range of illnesses in Cairo hospitals.



“Israel’s blockade has left everything in Gaza in tatters. People can’t find the simplest things to meet their needs,” said 40-year-old Gazan Sayed Abu Asi, whose six-year-old son Mohamed has a severe deformity in his right leg.



Due to the scarcity of medical equipment and medicines in Gaza, he said he had been trying for months to bring his son to Egypt for treatment but the Rafah border crossing had always been closed.



Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ordered an indefinite opening of the border, Gaza’s only conduit to the outside world not controlled by Israel (apart from the illegal tunnels between Gaza and Egypt), the day after Israel’s military action against an aid-carrying flotilla on 31 May.



On 1 June, Abu Asi and his son made it through the Rafah crossing and now the boy is being treated in Nasser Medical Institute in northern Cairo, one of several hospitals giving free treatment to Palestinians.



According to the Egyptian government, some 16,000 Gazans have crossed into Egypt so far at a controlled rate of around 500 a day. All those IRIN spoke to complained of the helplessness they felt in Gaza, with severe limits on imports and exports and the inability to rebuild damaged homes and infrastructure.



“The situation in Gaza is worse than words can say,” said Sami Abdeen, who was also receiving treatment at the Nasser Medical Institute. “There’s no food, no medicine, nothing at all. Israel doesn’t even let cement into the Strip for us to build our homes, which it destroyed last year.” [See PHOTO GALLERY: Mud brick houses in Gaza]



Israel has partly eased its three-year economic blockade of Gaza by allowing in some humanitarian items it used to ban. However, the UN, aid agencies and the international community have been urging Israel to completely lift the blockade, which it says is in place for security reasons.














Photo: Amr Emam/IRIN
Six-year-old Mohamed from Gaza has a severe deformity in his right leg

Gaza health care “never been worse”



In a 14 June press statement, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Gazan suffering could not be addressed simply by providing aid. “The closure imposed on Gaza chokes off any real possibility of economic development. Gazans continue to suffer from unemployment, poverty, and warfare, while the quality of Gaza’s health care system has reached an all-time low,” it said.



The ICRC said stocks of essential medical supplies in Gaza were depleted “because of a standstill in cooperation between the Palestinian authorities in Ramallah and Gaza”. At the end of May 2010, 110 of the 470 medicines considered essential, such as chemotherapy and haemophilia drugs, were unavailable. More than 110 of the 700 disposable items that should be available were also out of stock



"The state of the health-care system in Gaza has never been worse," said Eileen Daly, the ICRC's health coordinator in Gaza. "Health is being politicized: that is the main reason the system is failing. Unless something changes, things are only going to get even worse. Thousands of patients could go without treatment and the long-term outlook will be increasingly worrisome."



This situation has driven Abu Asi and thousands of other Gazans to Egypt.



“Most of these people suffer chronic diseases because of the hard conditions they experience in Gaza. Some have kidney failure, others have cancerous tumours, but the majority have bone deformities,” Bahaa Abu Zeid, manager of the Nasser Medical Institute, told IRIN, adding that the hospital has been receiving around 70 Palestinian patients a day.



“The bitter reality is that there is a complete generation of Gazans who will be dependent for the rest of their lives,” Abu Asi said. “They’re young people who lost their legs in Israeli attacks. They’ll grow up always needing help from others.”



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