The involvement of professional organizations in Israel and abroad sends an essential message with respect to the role played by the medical community
Recently, our fight for patients from the Gaza Strip has received support from medical associations abroad that have demanded that Israel ensures access to medical care to all, especially to children.
Several medical organizations, including the British Medical Association, the European Academy of Pediatrics and the International Society for Social Pediatrics and Child Health have contacted the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense and the Israel Pediatric Association. Based on information we have published, hundreds of patients from the Gaza Strip, including cancer patients, heart patients and children with various medical conditions, have had trouble accessing medical treatment as a combined result of the breakdown of coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israeli authorities and the tightened restrictions on exit permits for patients imposed by Israel. The Israeli authorities admit applications only from patients whose condition is considered urgent and place various additional bureaucratic hurdles on applications.
The European Academy of Pediatrics addressed its communication to the Israel Pediatric Association, highlighting figures according to which only half of the applications submitted by PHRI in the past few months have been accepted by Israel. The communication also cited two tragic cases of Palestinian babies from Gaza who died of their illness before they could make it to the hospitals to which they were referred outside the Strip. "Children are children," they wrote, "We support the right to health of Gaza's children and to swift, safe access to treatment in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Israel." The International Society for Social Pediatrics and Child Health also wrote to the Israel Pediatric Association, urging it to "Do everything needed to remove the obstacles and allow free and safe passage for patients from the Gaza Strip, particularly children, seeking medical treatment."
Responding to the two letters, Chair of the Israel Pediatric Association, Prof. Shai Ashkenazi, said he considers children's health to be critical and that he had contacted the Ministry of Health on the matter.
The letter sent by the British Medical Association (BMA), signed by Dr. John Chisholm, BMA Medical Ethics Committee Chair and Dr. Terry John, BMA International Committee Chair, was addressed to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Benny Gantz. The BMA stressed its concern over the implications of Israel's policy, stating that, "In terms of health and from a human rights perspective, Palestinians' ability to access medical treatment has been curtailed, causing unnecessary severe harm, possibly death." The letter concluded with a demand that Israel "rescind its decision to deny medical treatment to patients who do not require emergency care and grant them access to medical treatment within a reasonable time commensurate as required by their medical conditions."
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization recently helped set up a UN mechanism to liaise between the Palestinian Civilian Affairs Committee, which is responsible for submitting permit applications from the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli authorities at Erez Crossing.
The involvement of professional organizations in Israel and abroad sends an essential message with respect to the role played by the medical community: healthcare workers have a professional and ethical duty to protect the right to health. We are glad to hear that the Israeli Pediatric Association has asked for clarifications from the Ministry of Health and hope that it will continue to raise its voice to protect the health of Gazan children, as declared in the World Medical Association's Statement on Women and Children access to Healthcare, which asks constituent members to "insist on the rights of all women and children to full and adequate medical care".
We hope that Israel will also take immediate action and scale back the enhanced restrictions it has placed, that patients who are not considered urgent can also access medical treatment. In the long run, all parties involved must work toward removing the closure, the detrimental effect of which on the right to health goes beyond the issue of patient access to treatment.
Given all this and the worsening state of access to treatment by patients from the Gaza Strip, including children, we continue our commitment to fighting for the health of Palestinians in the Occupied Territory in general and in the Gaza Strip in particular.