15 years of blockade leaves Gaza facing a perpetual health crisis

Israel’s collective punishment of Gaza through its 15-year-long closure and blockade has created a humanitarian and health crisis that continues to deteriorate year-on-year, warn Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights.

In a new joint report, published on the 15-year anniversary of the intensified closure regime imposed by Israel since 2007, the organisations highlight how Israel’s stifling restrictions and repeated military attacks have degraded Gaza’s healthcare system and routinely prevented patients from accessing essential and potentially life-saving care.

“For 15 years Israel has denied Palestinians in Gaza their most basic rights to health and dignity. We are living in intolerable conditions with a health system constantly on the verge of collapse. The international community must pressure Israel to immediately end its blockade, which is the root cause of the seemingly endless healthcare disaster we face,” said Fikr Shalltoot, MAP’s Gaza Director.

The essential building blocks of health are unavailable to many in Gaza, with approximately 80% of people reliant on humanitarian assistance, 64% experiencing food insecurity and 59% living in poverty. Shortages of essential equipment, electricity, specialist staff and medical supplies mean that the healthcare system cannot meet people’s needs.

There is less than one month’s supply available of 40% of essential drugs and 20% of medical disposables, medical equipment and components are frequently blocked by Israel from entering Gaza, and healthcare staff are routinely prevented from travelling out for training.

As many vital services are therefore unavailable inside Gaza, patients must be referred to hospitals in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, or abroad. However, in 2021, 36% of the more than 15,000 patients’ requests to the Israeli authorities for permits to exit Gaza were either rejected, delayed or received no response, preventing them from accessing the care they need.

“The international community must pressure Israel to immediately end its blockade, which is the root cause of the seemingly endless healthcare disaster we face.” – Fikr Shalltoot, MAP’s Gaza Director.

In 2021, with the support of MAP, Al Mezan provided legal and advocacy assistance to 635 patients, including 235 children, needing help obtaining permits. 39% of these patients were granted permits as a result, demonstrating the arbitrariness of the initial decisions and delays.

“Israel's closure and blockade have turned the Gaza Strip into an unliveable place. This man-made humanitarian catastrophe is affecting all aspects of the everyday lives of more than two million Palestinians, including access to basic necessities such as healthcare, housing, and food. Within this disheartening context, Gaza's medical patients carry one of the heaviest burdens. On this grim anniversary, we must also address the root causes of this ongoing crisis, which lie in Israel's systemic discrimination against Palestinians, its perpetual occupation of Palestine, and its chronic culture of impunity,” said Issam Younis, Director of Al Mezan.

Four patients, including two children, died in 2021 following Israeli authorities’ refusal to grant permits. One of those patients was 15-year-old Amr Fakher Al-Kurd, who suffered from meningitis and subsequently died after he was denied an exit permit to receive treatment.

Residents in Gaza emphasised the suffering this capricious and discriminatory permit regime causes to patients. Fadi Ziyad Shannan described how it took him months to obtain a permit for eye surgery in the West Bank. “I received a response stating that my application is under review. Now I’ve lost complete vision in my left eye. As an auto rickshaw driver, I’m very afraid of losing my sight because it will also mean losing my source of income. I don't know why my application has been taking so long to process,” he told Al Mezan.

After 15 years of Israel’s illegal closure and blockade, the international community must finally act to uphold the rights and dignity of Palestinians in Gaza by bringing this collective punishment to an end and ensuring Palestinians’ access to healthcare services. States should also extend additional support to Gaza, to enable the sustainable development of healthcare services.

Read MAP’s and Al Mezan’s report ‘Delayed, denied and deprived: The collective punishment of Palestinian patients in Gaza in the context of Israel’s 15-year blockade’ here.

Read the report

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