A Letter From A United Nations Medical Officer: “The Suffering of People of Gaza”

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A Letter From A United Nations Medical Officer: “The Suffering of People of Gaza”
Submitted by Neda Laventure

Anyone who is monitoring the quality of life in the Gaza Strip, which has been living under a tightened 18-month siege, will be shocked by the catastrophic humanitarian situation. Unemployment rate has risen to 80% and the majority of the population is living far below the poverty line with one or two dollars a day. As a concerned medical professional, I would like to draw your attention to some harsh aspects of life for the civilian population in Gaza:

First: There are tremendous health problems, which threaten people with either death or life-long disability. There is a severe shortage in medicine and medical equipment. Hospital maintenance and upgrades for X-Ray rooms, labs, pharmacies and operating rooms are desperately in need of attention. People with chronic and serious illnesses such as cancer or diabetes do not stand a chance for recovery or receiving the appropriate treatment. The number of deaths due to inability to receive medical treatment is 257 since June of 2007. Many seniors and children with chronic illnesses such as two-year old Said Al-Ayidy, three-month old Hala Zannoun, fifteen-year old Rawan Nassar and numerous others died because they were denied travel permits for treatment and were simply left to die.

Hospitals in Gaza are anything but what hospitals should look like. Daily power cuts for long hours have caused immense suffering, especially to patients whose lives depend on medical machinery. Hospitals used gas-powered generators as substitutes. Yet, due to the lack of gas and diesel, the generators no longer served their purpose and the problem escalated. Sadly, the only opportunity that patients with serious diseases have is to be transferred either to Egypt or Israel. Often, it is extremely complicated and near to impossible to obtain permission to be transferred to either country. Many are barred from even considering treatment outside of Gaza except for a few urgent cases. Many patients have died while waiting for the official documents to be issued; others have died on their way to Israel or Egypt. Hospitals have been turned into places where patients sleep for several days without any healing or proper treatment due to the absence of drugs and medical equipment. Such supplies are not allowed to cross into Gaza from the commercial border points due to Israeli closure of such borders.

Second: We face another serious problem: sewage and pollution. We live in a densely populated area. The people of Gaza live in poor shanty towns, refugee camps, and crowded neighborhoods, which share fragile and inadequate infrastructure. Lack of fuel supply stops the water pumps that deal with the treatment and sanitation of sewage water. The only solution that the city has is to drain the sewer water into the Mediterranean. As a result, the beaches have been polluted and the fishing season has been significantly damaged.

On rainy winter days, the streets and homes are flooded with water and the already bumpy and unpaved roads become even worse. Sewer pipes often burst and get damaged due to inadequate infrastructure and lack of maintenance and repair. Dirty and toxic water is flooding out from broken pipes into streets and homes. In some refugee camps, the floods were so severe that people were forced to assemble primitive boats and flow over the water. In Jabalia refugee camp, where I work as a physician in a United Nations clinic, people have increasingly reported illnesses and sickness due to exposure to toxic air and chemical wastes.

Water has been flooding our backyard for days. The city public works department is unable to fix the problem because there are no construction materials to replace the damaged utilities. Heavy machinery does not have fuel to operate. We cannot open any windows and we are breathing toxic waste for days until sunny days come around to dry out everything. Streets are covered with mud, pebbles and sharp stones that are hazardous. The city departments are unable to fix any problems because they simply do not have any resources.

Finally, there are numerous problems that face our impoverished war-torn and isolated society, especially our damaged and disabled infrastructures. I did not mention the numerous shortages in food, goods and services, cash and other basic needs because I wanted to point out the health issues, which I am most familiar with as a medical professional. There is a need for urgent help from the international community. Former United States President Jimmy Carter described the siege that Gaza is enduring as a “crime against human rights.”

Can you imagine living like this?

Sincerely
F.M.A (Gaza City, Palestine)
U.N. Medical Officer
8 November 2008

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