Teaching lifesaving techniques: How MAP supporters are helping to improve patient safety

The ongoing closure and movement restrictions imposed on Gaza’s population by Israel and Egypt present serious challenges to medical professionals seeking to access the training and professional development they need to provide quality care to their patients.

MAP has been working for many years to bridge this gap and ensure Gaza’s health workers can stay connected to updates and technical developments in the outside world. Where medical professionals struggle to get out for training, we bring training opportunities into Gaza instead, with the aim of sustainably improving the capacity and self-reliance of Gaza’s health system.

In Gaza the need to develop neurosurgical services is crucial. Israel’s repeated military offensives on the territory and, most recently, violence against Palestinians at the ongoing “Great March of Return” demonstrations have resulted in high numbers of severe head trauma and complex spinal cord injuries. Without appropriate surgical management such trauma cases will result in lifelong disabilities or even death.

Two neurosurgical units can be found in Gaza, at Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City and European Gaza Hospital in the south. Back in 2015, a MAP-supported assessment identified that neurosurgeons working in the two units lacked the skills to conduct complex neurosurgery and, as a result, often refer patients with complex cases outside of Gaza, without guarantee that they will get a permit to exit, and risking their safety during their transfer if they do.

With support from high-profile surgical experts from Birmingham and Cardiff in the UK, MAP is now helping to develop neurosurgery in Gaza.

Dr Nidal, Head of the Neurosurgery Department at European Gaza Hospital and the only certified Neurosurgeon in Gaza, described the work we have supported so far:

When I started working [in 2010], there was no equipment or resources to work with. We were able to do some types of surgeries but we couldn’t do any cervical ones (operations on the neck). Then MAP started working with us.

Before, we used to refer the cases with cervical medical problems or do very few cases. However, during the two missions [in 2018] I was able to assist the surgeons from UK in two cases and do a third one under their supervision. I believe that with MAP’s support we will be able to do these types of surgeries independently which means that the cases will no longer need to be referred and go through a hard process of getting permits, cost of transportation and long exhausting trips.

“I would like to emphasise that this type of support not only helps local medical team to learn and gain new skills; but benefits the community as well through reducing the number of referrals outside Gaza and saving the lives of Palestinians. This project could be considered a lifeboat for our patients.”

In February 2019, a group of UK neurosurgeons were again in Gaza with MAP. Consultant Neurosurgeon, Dr Georgios Tsermoulas, spoke from the European Gaza Hospital about the operations they performed alongside local Palestinian health workers:

This was my second mission to Gaza and our focus was on training medics on spinal operations and complex brain tumour surgeries. We operated on a young man who was becoming paralysed due to compression of the spine. We were in surgery for three hours. Another patient was a man suffering from a large brain tumour which was causing behavioural changes. This operation lasted well above six hours, during which time we taught the local team skills and techniques so they can perform surgeries like this on their own in the future.”

Dr Tsermoulas and the rest of the multidisciplinary team will be returning to Gaza later this year, with three more missions planned. With your continued support, MAP is confident that these interventions will lead to long-term improvements in patient care and safety. MAP would like to thank the visiting expert volunteers for their time and energy.

Please donate today to help MAP continue to support training and development for Palestinian medical professionals in Gaza.

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This article originally appeared in the Summer 2019 edition of our supporter magazine, Witness.