Deema, 2020: How the Gaza blockade still denies women with breast cancer the care they deserve

To mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) is relaunching its animation highlighting the many challenges faced by breast cancer patients in Gaza.

The animation, first released in 2017, follows ‘Deema’, a woman from Gaza, as she tries to access treatment and care but faces barriers at every stage. The video, alongside MAP’s breast cancer campaigns and wider advocacy on access to healthcare for patients with cancer and other needs, has helped bring international attention to the plight of women like Deema. At the same time MAP has developed a new cross-Palestine breast cancer programme that is helping improve diagnostics, surgery and nursing across the West Bank and Gaza, and helping women access higher quality services when they need them most.

This year we have updated the video with the latest data and information from Cancer Research UK and other medical research, the World Health Organization (WHO) and MAP’s own team in Gaza which show that, sadly, the political and economic barriers women face in accessing care while living under illegal closure and blockade continue unabated in 2020. The video is also now in Arabic, so as to be more relevant among Palestinians, MAP’s programmes and partners, and regionally.

Many cancer treatments remain unavailable or in short supply in Gaza, yet frequent denials or delays to the granting of permits by the Israeli authorities frequently prevent women from leaving to undergo treatment elsewhere, for example at more advanced Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem. According to the WHO, cancer patients whose permits to exit Gaza for treatment are initially delayed or denied are almost 50% more likely to die in subsequent years.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 (coronavirus), accessing cancer care outside Gaza has become even more difficult for Palestinian patients. With weakened immune systems, these women are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Every time they return from treatment, they now have to go into quarantine centres, which besides the physical pain, has a deep impact on their psychological wellbeing. One cancer patient reflected, “before COVID-19, after the difficult treatment at least I was able to return to my children and family ,which was comforting.”

Since July, Israeli authorities have increased the requirements to be potentially granted an exit permit. Cancer patients are now required to submit the results of biopsies and diagnostic imaging, where previously a referral for the medical care was all that was required. Ghada Majadle, Director of the Occupied Territories Department at Physicians for Human Rights–Israel recently stated: “This request by the army is a shocking and cynical use of bureaucracy by Israel to torture patients from Gaza, in particular women with cancer. The Israeli authorities must immediately halt these ridiculous demands, put medical considerations above any other and guarantee these women full and as speedy access as possible to treatment.”

For a woman suffering under blockade or living under occupation in Palestine, the odds of surviving breast cancer are unfairly stacked against her. This is why MAP needs your support to bring life-saving medicine and treatment to women in Gaza and help address this injustice.

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For more information on breast cancer in the occupied Palestinian territory click here.

To read about how MAP’s projects support for women with breast cancer in the West Bank and Gaza, click here.

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