Six Gaza cancer patients die after being denied access to treatment

Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) is deeply concerned that five female cancer patients died in August after being prevented from attending hospital appointments outside of Gaza. 

According to MAP’s information, the deaths of at least five such patients in one month is the highest number of monthly fatalities on record. MAP knows of one further cancer patient death since then. The charity has information on 30 people dying already this year after being prevented from attending treatment outside of Gaza – indicating that 2017 will be the worst year on record. Fourteen of the deaths were of cancer patients.

Denying women access to potentially life-saving treatment is indefensible”, said Aimee Shalan, CEO of MAP, “and underlines both the severity of the humanitarian emergency in Gaza and the urgent need for man-made barriers to accessing healthcare to be lifted.

According to the monthly Gaza healthcare access report of the World Health Organization, the five women who died in August were aged between 26 and 53 years old. Two of the women suffered from colon cancer, one from ovarian cancer, one from breast cancer and one from a rare cancer known as a primitive neuroectodermal tumour.

Since August, a 53-year-old woman with breast cancer- who attended a MAP-supported health centre- also died after she was prevented from accessing treatment outside Gaza. There are very likely additional deaths not recorded by the WHO or MAP.

MAP has persistently highlighted barriers to healthcare in Gaza and across the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) for Palestinian patients in general and for cancer patients in particular. It has documented how challenges posed by restrictions on the right to movement for patients and doctors, shortages of essential medicines, and the shortcomings of the health system in the oPt all constitute obstacles to continuous and effective treatment and care for Palestinian women with breast cancer.

This week, a MAP-supported multi-disciplinary breast cancer care team is in Gaza and the West Bank undertaking surgeries, assessing current levels of care provision, and providing training. The specialist team includes surgeons, a clinical oncologist, a radiologist, a clinical nurse and a palliative care specialist.

The work of this fantastic breast cancer team is an important step towards strengthening the ability of the Palestinian healthcare system to improve treatment pathways and the lives of breast cancer patients, but it can only do so much” added Aimee Shalan. “Israel as the occupying power and all other duty-bearers must remove barriers to accessing medical treatment. As these tragic deaths emphasise, this should begin with ending the decade-long blockade and closure of Gaza.”

The six women cancer patients known to have died after being prevented from accessing treatment outside of Gaza are Faten Ahmed, Kaenat Jaa’rur, Nadia Hamad, Itimad Rabi’e, Muna al-Aila and Ibtesam Nabhan.

MAP encourages the UK and other governments to demand an end to Israel’s closure and blockade of Gaza, deemed “collective punishment” by the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross. MAP also encourages the UK and others to support the long-term development of human resources and infrastructure of the Palestinian healthcare system in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza.


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