Middle East


With aid cut off to their government, Palestinians find their daily lives increasingly strained, especially in Gaza. Hamas now leads the Palestinian government and its listing as a terrorists group by Israel and the West has lead to the suspension of foreign aid. It has also caused a block on international banking and money transfers. The aid cut off and closures of Israel's main cargo crossing into Gaza are now affecting an already fragile Palestinian medical system. Hospitals report shortages of vital supplies and all but life-saving surgeries have been postponed.

NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.

ERIC WESTERVELT: These days in Gaza, if you want medical care, you have to bring some of your own healing tools. 23-year-old Tareer Shakura(ph), a new mother, fell and hurt her arm the other day. She walked into Al-Shifa, Gaza's main hospital, to get sewn up. The nurse told her she first had to go buy a bandage and tape.

HARIR SHAKURA: (Through translator) Though I had to go to a pharmacy and buy it and bring it to them to put it on my arm.

WESTERVELT: Today Tareer is sitting in the sun in an outdoor waiting area at Gaza's main children's hospital, Al-Nasser (ph). Her 8-month-old son is asleep on the lap of her husband Allah. The infant is here to get treatment for an upper respiratory infection and diarrhea. And again, a doctor asked Tareer to bring her own supplies.

SHAKURA: (Through translator) They wanted a syringe to take some blood, for analyzing his blood, and they didn't have a syringe so we had to bring one from outside. We're really in a crisis here. If we want health treatment for our baby or ourselves, we have to bring it with us.

WESTERVELT: And like many others here, the Shakuras can't afford that. Allah, a Gaza City policeman, hasn't been paid in 75 days. The Palestinian Ministry of Health has postponed all by life-saving operations in Gaza. The ministry says its medical reserves are running out. Suppliers are reluctant to extend new credit.

That means Palestinian hospitals are now running low on critical medicine, such as Atropine and adrenaline. Several hospitals now have to use heavy plastic electrical tape to set broken bones. They've run out of medical plaster.

Grant Leaity is the field coordinator here for Doctors Without Borders, which runs clinics and aids Palestinian hospitals throughout the Gaza strip.

GRANT LEAITY: There's a shortage of plastics and specialized bandages. This is not high technology stuff. This is very, along with adrenaline, IVs are absolute basic every day needs. And, especially in the case of adrenaline, it's life saving.

WESTERVELT: For almost all specialized care, for cancer, heart disease, neurosurgery, among others, Palestinians have to leave Gaza for treatment in Israel or Egypt. But with the border closures, aid cuts and salary freezes, fewer people are able to travel for care.

Several times recently, gunmen have stormed hospital or Ministry of Health offices demanding urgent care for loved ones. Hospitals are low on filters for dialysis machines. The Health Ministry says since April three Palestinians have died after failing to get adequate dialysis for kidney disease.

Ashraf Halera(ph) is a staff nurse in Gaza City.

ASHRAF HALERA: The problem that some of our patient who make dialysis three times a week. Now they are going for one time a week. This is making their life more complicated and this is maybe one of the causes of death for this patient.

WESTERVELT: A combination of problems has collided to create this healthcare crisis. Israel has closed Carney, the main freight crossing into Gaza, more than half the time so far this year, citing security threats. Last month, Palestinian police stopped an attempted car bombing of Carney by militants.

The closure has led to the medical shortages and reduced stockpiles. In addition, a special three-year emergency funding program for healthcare from the World Bank ended in December. On top of that, the politically isolated Hamas government is broke and more than a billion dollars in debt with almost no money coming in to run ministries.

More than 650,000 refugees in Gaza already depend on monthly food aid from the United Nations to get by. John King, the director of the U.N. Relief Agency here says the mixture of pressures has compounded their plight.

JOHN KING: It all has a trickle down effect. There's less money in circulation so always, of course, the most vulnerable at the lower end, who feel the first affects, depend so much on the trickle down and it's just not happening. Of course it's very significant for those who are at the upper end and because they are now sliding down into the lower end.

WESTERVELT: Israel says it's not trying to prompt a humanitarian crisis. Hamas, Israeli and U.S. officials say, needs to recognize the Jewish state's right to exist, renounce violence and honor signed agreements.

Meantime, healthcare is expected to be a major focus today in Brussels when officials with the U.S., the E.U., the U.N. and Russia meet to discuss resuming some humanitarian aide to the Palestinians while still trying to bypass the Hamas-led government.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Gaza.

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