WHO report: Barriers to healthcare access continue to grow for Palestinian patients

A new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) highlights how Israel’s barriers to freedom of movement are harming the functioning of the Palestinian health system and the continuity of patient care.

Palestinians who need medical care outside of their region of residence require an exit permit from the Government of Israel. This is primarily an issue for residents of the West Bank and Gaza, who are often referred for treatment in East Jerusalem, where the most advanced Palestinian hospitals are located and the only place where treatments such as radiotherapy are available in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The WHO report stresses that “unrestricted access to medical care is crucial for patients.” However the WHO found that “every year the burdensome permit application process and security procedures result in delays and denial of care for thousands of Palestinian patients, and patient companions.”

The WHO’s analysis indicates a year on year declining rate of approval of permit requests for Palestinian patients from 92% in 2012 to 62% in 2016. The 62% approval rate for permits for Gaza patients to cross Erez checkpoint last year was the lowest since 2008.

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health the rate of approval of permit requests for Palestinian patients has continued to decline in 2017, with, on average, at least half (53%) of all applications for permits to exit Gaza through the Erez checkpoint routinely denied or delayed.

The WHO’s report also highlights that the approval rate for permits for patients’ companions – family members accompanying patients to support them through their treatment – was only 53% in 2016. This is particularly problematic for parents accompanying sick children and for companions of the elderly and disabled.

Barriers to accessing healthcare outside Gaza have reportedly grown in recent months as a result of a deepening rift between the Palestinian Authority and the de facto authorities in Gaza. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) reported this month that the Ministry in Health in Ramallah has been “minimizing medical referrals abroad, without explaining reasons, for patients suffering from serious health problems that cannot be treated in the Gaza Strip hospitals”

Israel has an international legal obligation, as the occupying power, to ensure humanitarian assistance to the population under its control, including access to medical care. Notwithstanding the constraints of the occupation, all Palestinian duty-bearers, including the Palestinian Authority and the de facto authorities in Gaza, are also obliged to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of Palestinians and ensure access to medical care without discrimination.

Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) is calling on all duty-bearers to remove barriers to accessing healthcare, and the realisation of Palestinians’ right to health in the occupied Palestinian territory.

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You can read more about obstacles imposed by the Israeli authorities on Palestinians’ access to healthcare here:

Health Under Occupation, Chapter 1: Access to Healthcare

You can read the WHO’s full report here.