Al Mezan: The international community must demand that Israel lift restrictions on Palestinian patients’ access to hospitals and medical care outside of Gaza – Occupied Palestinian Territory

On January 9, 2022, at approximately 1 p.m., medical sources at the Palestine Medical Complex in Ramallah announced the death of 16-year-old Gaza resident Salim Mohammed al-Nawati from leukemia. Al-Nawati was diagnosed at Al-Rantisi Specialist Hospital in Gaza and, due to the lack of treatment available in the Strip, was referred by the Ministry of Health to Al-Najah National University Hospital in Nablus. Al-Nawati scheduled an appointment for November 24, 2021, but was prevented from leaving Gaza by Israeli authorities. His family made another appointment and resubmitted the travel permit application, which is a mandatory and discriminatory measure imposed by the Israeli authorities on all Palestinian patients who need to leave Gaza for treatment. The patient missed three hospital appointments due to Israel’s late responses to his requests, and was finally granted an exit permit on December 26, 2021.

Israel’s practice of delaying the issuance of exit permits until the hospital appointment has passed is a common occurrence for patients in Gaza, who consequently complain of worsening of their state of health and reduced chances of recovery. Al Mezan documentation shows that between 2017 and 2021, 63 patients – including eight children and 22 women – died after Israeli authorities denied them access to hospitals and medical care outside the Gaza Strip .

Despite the important role played by the Department of Foreign Referrals of the Ministry of Health, many patients in the Gaza Strip complain of delays in obtaining medical referrals and financial coverage. Patients who are in their final stages of treatment and who have been referred for years are also reporting delays in renewing their referrals, and they fear their recovery will be affected.

Al Mezan mourns, with the Al-Nawati family, the death of their child, and calls on the international community to urge Israel to stop obstructing patient access to hospitals in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and to the inside the Green Line. Israel must also fully and unconditionally lift its illegal closure and blockade, which, among its restrictions, prevents the entry of necessary diagnostic and therapeutic devices into Gaza and the freedom of movement of patients.

Authorities must investigate Al-Nawati’s death, particularly the procedures followed by the foreign referral service, as Al Mezan was informed that the child was being referred to hospitals including the Ministry of Health knows that they do not receive such cases, either because of the debts accumulated on the Ministry itself or because they are non-specialized hospitals. Al-Najah Hospital and Palestine Medical Complex both refused to admit the child, which is unjustified. The process the patient went through on the Palestinian side requires investigation.

Al Mezan reiterates the need to localize health services and invest in building the capacity of public and private hospitals in the Gaza Strip to prevent further suffering for patients, while reducing costs. Al Mezan calls on the international community, the World Health Organization and other health and medical organizations to work to modernize hospitals in Gaza and equip them with the necessary devices to enable them to provide medical care to patients with cancer and other patients with serious illnesses.

Ultimately, the occupying power is responsible for guaranteeing the right to health. The barriers are numerous and the complex permit regime must be dismantled.

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