New WHO reports underline healthcare challenges for Palestinian patients

A new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) highlights how Israel’s barriers to freedom continue to prevent some Palestinian patients from accessing urgently needed medical care, including vital cancer treatment.

According to the WHO’s monthly Gaza healthcare access report, in May 2018 Israel approved permits for just 59% of all patients seeking to exit Gaza for treatment in East Jerusalem, the rest of the West Bank or abroad. These permits are critical for many patients unable to access the medical treatment they need within Gaza. Israeli authorities denied 201 Gaza patients (including six children) permission to cross Erez for healthcare in May, including 37 cancer patients. In addition, 718 patients (including 164 children) missed appointments due to Israeli delays, 23% in need of cancer treatment.

Due to Israeli forces’ violence response to the “Great March of Return” demonstrations, more than a thousand patients in Gaza require specialist limb reconstruction care. The WHO’s report however, shows that only 36% of orthopaedic applications were approved to exit Gaza for medical treatment. This emphasises the importance of our support for limb reconstruction within Gaza. As reported in the WHO’s latest situational report on Gaza, last month we deployed a limb reconstruction mission consisting of seven orthopaedic and plastic surgeons. The mission examined 177 cases of the most complex gunshot injuries at Al Shifa and the European Gaza Hospital. The report provides much other troubling data, including on further attacks on healthworkers.

Patients in the West Bank also encounter barriers to accessing healthcare in the six specialist hospitals in East Jerusalem. According to the WHO, in May 83% of permits for patients in the West Bank to travel for medical treatment in East Jerusalem were approved, 16% were denied and 2% were pending a reply at the time of monthly reporting.

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 46% for those travelling in May from Gaza and 83% for companions from the West Bank. This is particularly problematic for parents accompanying sick children and for companions of the elderly and those with disabilities.

Medical Aid for Palestinians (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.

Last year, the approval rate for exit permits issued by Israeli authorities to Palestinians seeking medical treatment outside Gaza was the lowest since the WHO began collecting figures in 2008. Israeli authorities approved just 54% permits, a record low. Palestinians from Gaza missed at least 11,000 scheduled medical appointments after Israeli authorities denied or failed to respond in time to applications for permits. 54 Palestinians, 46 of whom had cancer, died in 2017 following the denial or delay of their permits, including individuals involved in MAP’s programmes.

The accessibility of healthcare is a fundamental element of the right to health. As the occupying power, Israel has an international legal obligation to ensure humanitarian assistance to the population under its control, including access to medical care.

MAP urges the UK and other governments to take action to ensure Israel removes obstacles to accessing healthcare, including ultimately by ending the closure and the occupation.

You can read our report and infographics on how the occupation undermines the accessibility of healthcare here.