by Julie Webb-Pullman
“All our hopes are for our patients,” Director of Gaza’s Rantisi Specialist Paediatric Hospital Dr Mostafa Elaila said a day after the announcement of the Palestinian consensus government in Ramallah. “If we are able to provide full services, patients will not have to travel outside for treatment, and we will save them extra suffering.”
The hospital, the only specialised paediatric hospital in Gaza, opened in 2008 with 26 beds, and has since grown to offer 70 specialised beds and an intensive care unit, as well as seeing 24,000 outpatients annually.
Although they endeavour to offer specialist treatment for a wide range of medical problems, such as haematology, oncology, cardiac, gastro, neurological, respiratory, endocrine and metabolic disorders, the siege has made it all but impossible for doctors to receive the sort of concentrated postgraduate specialist training available in other countries.
Despite the Gazan attempts to develop distance and electronic learning facilities and co-operation with outside colleagues, there is no substitute for formal specialist training in centres of excellence – which requires freedom of movement for Gazan doctors and other medical personnel.
“Most of our clinicians have received some specialist training outside, but only in short courses. Very few are able to receive complete specialist training,” Dr Elaila said. “We hoped to bring in outside trainers, but with the siege and the problems with the Rafah Crossing, it has not been possible to the extent we need.”
One initiative that has been possible is a “twinning” arrangement with the Royal Liverpool Hospital, in which a team of renal surgeons have come to Gaza for two weeks every six months since April 2012, bringing the necessary specialised equipment with them, and performing the surgery with the Gazan team assisting. Some of the Gazan medical staff have been able to travel to the Royal Liverpool Hospital for several months to receive further training.
Headed by surgeon Abdelkader Hammad, whose parents are Palestinian, the team has performed ten transplants in the past twelve months, four of them on children, and during the last trip in April the Gazan team performed the transplants “from A to Z,” under the Liverpool doctors’ supervision.
“We hope that soon the Gazan team will be able to perform renal transplants completely independently,” Dr Elaila explained. “Our staff are very enthusiastic and committed, and visiting medical teams have told us we have attained global standards. If the necessary facilities and equipment were available, we believe we could improve by another 20%.”
Medical equipment, supplies and drugs have been a major casualty of the Israeli siege, which was imposed by Israel following the capture by Hamas of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit during an Israeli military operation in 2006.
With the release of Gilad Shalit in 2011, and the resignation of the Hamas government this week and its replacement by the Palestinian consensus government, there is no justification for the continuation of the Israeli siege of Gaza – and its impact on innocent children.
“Travelling to other countries for treatment causes unnecessary suffering for our patients and their families,” Dr Elaila said. “Our first concern is for the children we treat. With the proper equipment and trained staff, we can provide the total services they need, here in Gaza. We hope the reconciliation will result in the siege being lifted so we can do this.”
Israel has run out of excuses to keep the siege in place – and the children of Gaza need no excuse for their right to life.