You can take action for Gaza

The World Health Organisation has stated that Israel’s blockade of Gaza, ‘… severely restricts access of people and goods and remains the main impediment to reconstruction and recovery … The blockade … is leading to a steady degradation of the health system and deterioration of the quality of care provided'.

A couple of years ago, our Regional Manager Su was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer.

Fortunately she had caught it early enough for her chances of survival to be pretty good.

‘I live in the UK where I was able to receive the best of care – surgery followed by chemo, radio and hormone therapy.

‘The options that were available to me and the medical care that I received were in stark contrast to that received by women in the Gaza Strip. I visited Embrace’s partner, Al Ahli hospital in Gaza City. I was taken to see the hospital’s mammography machine – one of only eight working machines in the whole of the strip – serving a population of 1.8 million. I was really affected by what I’d seen as I discovered that a woman diagnosed with breast cancer in Gaza has less than a 50% chance of still being alive in five years. This compares with an 87% five-year survival rate in the UK.’


Su in training

The main reason for this huge discrepancy is Israel’s blockade of Gaza. The good news is that in spite of the huge obstacles that the blockade presents, Al Ahli has continued to run a breast cancer programme for the past six years and screens 1,200 women a year. There are good surgical facilities for breast surgery, including radical mastectomy, but for women who need chemo or hormone therapy, there is no guarantee of finishing the course of treatment as stocks often run out.

Su continues: 'There are no facilities at all in Gaza for radiotherapy so cancer patients have to travel either to Jerusalem, Jordan or Egypt. In order to do this they need permission from the Israeli authorities. To get a permit they must produce documents from the hospital where they are to be treated. If they want a relative or friend to travel with them they must be over 55 to avoid having to undergo a security check. All of this takes time and as one doctor I spoke to wryly commented; ‘Very often by the time the necessary travel permits arrive for patients it’s not about cure, it’s about palliative care.

'While cancer treatment will remain difficult as long as the blockade persists, that does not mean nothing can be done. Al Ahli hospital does incredible work in the face of overwhelming odds and they need our support to keep going.'

Su continues to work hard for the women of Gaza. She recently ran the Bethlehem half marathon and raised over £5000 for cancer services at Al Ahli hospital.

 

How you can take action:

  1. Give to our Urgent Medical Care for Gaza appeal: click here to find out more.
  2. Write to your MP: Find below suggested wording to use. Please do let us know if you hear back from your MP. You can find out who your MP is on the UK Political info website. http://www.ukpolitical.info/Finder.htm

1.You can read the WHO’s latest report on the impact of the blockade on Gaza http://www.emro.who.int/pse/palestine-infocus/situation-reports.html 

 

Dear

I am writing to ask about the UK government’s response to the injustice faced by women with breast cancer in Gaza. In the UK, women have around an 85% chance of surviving five years after their diagnosis and it is a similar figure in Israel. In Gaza, the survival rate is nearer 40%. Such poor survival rates, and so many avoidable deaths, are totally unacceptable in this modern age. The UK government must use its influence with Israel as the occupying power under international law to improve both the healthcare infrastructure in Gaza and patients’ access to healthcare, whether in Gaza or abroad.

There are several reasons for the very low survival rates in Gaza. There is no radiotherapy treatment available in the territory, and chemotherapy is severely restricted by a shortage of drugs.  In November 2015, the Palestinian Ministry of Health reported there was zero stock of more than a third of essential cancer medicines. Israel’s blockade of Gaza which began in 2007 prevents essential supplies from entering and many patients requiring medical treatment from leaving. Compounding the problems caused by the blockade, the 2014 Israeli military offensive destroyed seven health facilities, including one hospital, and damaged 67 more, including 17 hospitals.

Reconstruction of Gaza’s medical facilities would help, but last year the World Health Organisation reported that rebuilding was severely hampered by a shortage of funding. Even those facilities which received funding are struggling to rebuild due to a lack construction materials. Israel is preventing basic building materials from entering Gaza via its essential veto on the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM).

Some women in Gaza with breast cancer are referred for treatment to other parts of Palestine or abroad. This requires them to apply for permits from Israel to pass through the Erez checkpoint in order to access hospitals in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The checkpoint and permit regime imposed by Israel causes unnecessary and sometimes fatal delays for women requiring treatment outside of Gaza. The prospect of interrogation at the checkpoint also adds to the fear and stress of cancer sufferers, which acts as a further unnecessary barrier to healthcare.

The majority of referrals out of Gaza are for cancer patients. In January 2016 alone there were 519 permit applications for oncology treatment. However, 92 cancer patients were either denied permits or did not receive a response to their applications in time, meaning they lost their hospital appointments. These patients need to reapply for permits and have lost valuable time in their fight against the disease. This is simply unacceptable.

Just as concerning is the WHO’s report of an ‘alarming increase’ in the number of permit applicants required to attend Israeli security interviews. The number of people required to attend interviews in January 2016 was half the total number for the whole of 2015. Making access to essential treatment conditional on attending intimidating security interviews is a severe violation of patients’ rights.

In light of this, I am writing to ask:

  • How much of the UK’s $32m pledge at the 2014 Cairo Conference has been disbursed? What proportion of this has been spent on supporting Gaza’s crippled health services?
  • The GRM was designed to be a short-term mechanism. When therefore does the UK government deem it appropriate to review how effective the GRM has been at helping the people of Gaza rebuild their basic infrastructure? Is it prepared to abandon the mechanism if it finds it to be ineffective?
  • Will the UK government make known to Israel its concern about patient access to healthcare, especially the increasing number of patients required to attend security interviews in order to receive treatment in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank?
  • In view of a previous statement in 2010 by the then Foreign Secretary that Israel’s blockade of Gaza was ‘unsustainable and unacceptable’, will the UK government also make clear to Israel that it regards the blockade of Gaza to be a violation of international law, given that the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN have referred to it as a form of collective punishment?
  • What action is the Foreign Secretary planning to take to end Israel’s blockade and to bring about the transformative shift that is urgently required for Palestinians in Gaza, especially those with potentially fatal diseases such as breast cancer?

This situation is an issue close to my heart. I stand with Su McClellan, a breast cancer survivor who ran the Bethlehem half marathon to raise funds for the Christian development charity Embrace the Middle East (www.embraceme.org) for whoom she also works.

Embrace partners with the Anglican diocese’s Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza City, which provides mammograms or self-examination training for over six thousand women a year to aid early diagnosis of breast cancer and to increase their chances of survival.

However, despite the best efforts of NGOs, what is desperately needed is political action to improve the health infrastructure and remove unjust barriers to essential treatments which are not available in Gaza.

Please do all you can to represent these issues to the government and to parliament. The needless death of women from breast cancer in Gaza can be prevented. I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely