Gaza's desperate health care crisis

Ritta al-Jalees doesn’t care who’s to blame for the deteriorating state of health care in Gaza. All she wants is to ensure her three sons get the help they need to breathe.

The boys, aged nine months and six and seven years, all of whom suffer from cystic fibrosis, are getting weaker because Gaza is running out of the drugs needed to treat the inherited lung disease and because of cuts to power for oxygen pumps and ventilators.

“I blame all sides,” said Jalees, a mother of six, as she held her youngest at Al-Rantissi Hospital for Children in Gaza City. “Are these children at fault?”

Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade since 2007 after Hamas forces seized control of the territory following a brief civil war with security forces loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, the Western-backed Palestinian president based in the West Bank. Egypt, at odds with Hamas, also maintains a blockade.

Although the Israeli blockage has eased somewhat in recent years, a new stage in the struggle between Abbas and the Islamist Hamas is turning the screws on the enclave afresh.

In what is seen as the latest step in an effort to force Hamas to relinquish its control of Gaza, Abbas in June reduced the payments the PA makes to Israel for electricity it supplies to the territory.

The resulting cuts mean that Gaza’s two million people now have only 3 to 4 hours of power a day, forcing hospitals and other medical facilities to rely chiefly on generators and expensive fuel, while many private homes just go without.

Hamas says that Abbas restricted transfers of medicine to Gaza in March, accusing Hamas of failing to reimburse the PA for its purchases, and cut the salaries of its officials in May.

The spokesman for Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry, Ashraf Al-Qidra, said PA shipments of medicine, especially drugs to treat cancer and cystic fibrosis, have dropped 35 percent since late March.

“We believe the actions of the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli occupation together are undermining the entire health service system in Gaza,” Qidra told Reuters.

Hamas also accuses the PA of delaying the transfer of hundreds of seriously ill patients to Israel or the Israeli-occupied West Bank, actions which it says has resulted in 13 deaths since April.

The PA denies the allegations and accuses Israel of holding back permits. Israel denies the allegations.

Whoever is at fault, a U.N. report released last week said power shortages are deepening a humanitarian crisis, with hospitals in a precarious condition, water shortages increasing and raw sewage being dumped into the Mediterranean because treatment plants aren’t functioning.

“The two million residents of Gaza are suffering through a humanitarian crisis that is entirely human-made,” the report said. “It represents a complete failure of all parties to uphold their fundamental human rights obligations, including the inalienable right to life.” (Reuters)

Photography by Mohammed Salem/Reuters

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A mother comforts her son

Palestinian boy Mohammad Shanty, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, sits next to his mother after receiving oxygen therapy during a power cut in their family house, which is equipped with a backup battery-powered system, in Gaza City, July 2, 2017. (Photo: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

The emergency room at Shifa hospital

Palestinian boy Ahmed Abu Saman, 16, who was injured in a car accident, lies on a bed at the emergency room at Shifa hospital, Gaza’s largest public medical facility, in Gaza City, March 29, 2017. (Photo: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

A corridor at Shifa hospital

A worker stands in a corridor at Shifa hospital, Gaza’s largest public medical facility, in Gaza City, March 29, 2017. (Photo: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

A woman watches her grandson undergo kidney dialysis

The grandmother of Palestinian boy Yehia al-Samna, 8, watches him as he undergoes a kidney dialysis at a public paediatric hospital in Gaza City, March 28, 2017. (Photo: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

A mother holds her son’s hand

The mother of Palestinian boy Ahmed Abbas, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, holds his hand as he lies on a hospital bed in Gaza City July 2, 2017. Picture taken July 2, 2017. (Photo: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

Patients present their documents before treatment

Palestinian patients present their documents as they wait to receive treatment at an outpatient clinic at Shifa hospital, Gaza’s largest public medical facility, in Gaza City, March 29, 2017. (Photo: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

A patient lies on a bed before surgery

Palestinian man Eizz al-Deen Habash, 39, lies on a bed before his ankle surgery at Shifa hospital, Gaza’s largest public medical facility, in Gaza City, March 29, 2017. (Photo: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

A girl attends a physiotherapy session

Palestinian girl Rasha al-Bayed, 5, who suffers from cerebral palsy, attends a physiotherapy session at Mabaret Falasteen charity in Gaza City, March 20, 2017. (Photo: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

Doctors and medics perform a surgery

Doctors and medics perform a surgery for Palestinian woman Sadeya al-Shafi, 60, in the operating room at Shifa hospital, Gaza’s largest public medical facility, in Gaza City, March 29, 2017. (Photo: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

A girl is prepped to have stiches removed

Palestinian girl Jana Al-Bodi, 5, lies on a bed before nurses remove stitches over her eye at Al Awda Hospital, a private medical facility in the northern Gaza Strip, March 30, 2017. (Photo: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

A medicine warehouse run by health ministry

An employee checks medicines at a medicine warehouse run by health ministry, in Gaza City, April 3 2017. (Photo: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

Two boys lie in a bed

Palestinian boys Mohammed al-Bayed (R), 13, and Amjad Bahar, 4, who suffer from cerebral palsy, lie on a a bed at Mabaret Falasteen charity in Gaza City, March 20, 2017. (Photo: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

A girl is checked by a doctor

Palestinian girl Nour Seyam, 3, who suffers from tonsillitis, is checked by a doctor at an outpatient clinic at Shifa hospital, Gaza’s largest public medical facility, in Gaza City, March 29, 2017. (Photo: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

Newborns are seen at Shifa hospital

Newborns are seen at Shifa hospital in Gaza City June 12, 2017. (Photo: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

A patient undergoes dialysis

A patient undergoes dialysis at Shifa hospital in Gaza City June 12, 2017. (Photo: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

A boy waits to be seen at an outpatient clinic

Palestinian boy Mohammed Bahtiti (L), 13, who fractured his leg, waits for medical checks at an outpatient clinic at Shifa hospital, Gaza’s largest public medical facility, in Gaza City, March 29, 2017. (Photo: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

A girl is held by her father at an outpatient clinic

Palestinian girl Marah Mokat, who fractured her leg, is carried by her father as she waits for medical checks at an outpatient clinic at Shifa hospital, Gaza’s largest public medical facility, in Gaza City, March 29, 2017. (Photo: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

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