The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) condemns the decision taken by the Palestinian Ministry of Health to decrease transfers of patients who are in critical or serious health conditions to Israeli hospitals to receive medical treatment or resume previous treatment, under the claim of rationalizing medical transfers from the Gaza Strip. PCHR expresses utmost concern for the lives of dozens of patients who urgently need medical treatment in advanced health facilities, due to lack of capabilities in hospitals throughout the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, with which the Ministry of Health deals.
According to investigations conducted by PCHR, the Ministry of Health in Ramallah issued a decision decreasing transfers of patients to Israeli hospitals starting from 02 November 2011, and the Department of External Treatment in Gaza has been committed to this decision. The decision is attributed, according to sources of the Ministry, to the high costs of treatment in Israeli hospitals. These sources pointed out that this decision had been studied and discussed in the Ministry of Health for years, but it was delayed due the need of some patients, especially those suffering from serious or incurable diseases in need of treatment in advanced health facilities, and because Israeli hospitals are closer to the Gaza Strip than Egypt and Jordan.
This decision has led to stopping dozens of transfers of patients who suffer from serious diseases, 90% of them cancer patients, whose treatment is not available in the Gaza Strip. It has also endangered the lives of dozens of patients who are in critical conditions and whose transfer to Egyptian hospitals is not possible due to the long distance. Furthermore, not all medical treatment for their diseases is available in hospitals in Jerusalem or the West Bank. Two children died as they urgently needed advanced medical treatment, but the Ministry of Health transferred them to hospitals that cannot treat their diseases. Those hospitals apologized for not admitting them, and the Ministry of Health did not transfer them to Israeli Hospitals. PCHR lawyers immediately intervened with concerned bodies and with the Director General of Medical Insurance in the West Bank in an attempt to save the lives of the two children, but they died before a response was sent to PCHR.
On 04 November 2011, Mohammed Azzam Sahwil, born on 29 September 2002, who was suffering from growth retardation and muscle atrophy, died. His health condition deteriorated on 01 November 2011, so he was admitted into the intensive care unit of al-Nasser Hospital in Gaza City. The Ministry of Health was provided with an urgent report to make necessary arrangements for transfer him abroad. On 25 October 2011, the child obtained Form No. 1 to receive medical treatment abroad. On 02 November 2011, the child obtained financial coverage for medical treatment in al-Maqassed Hospital in Jerusalem, but the hospital refused to admit him because of its inability to treat him. The Ministry of Health was informed of this decision, but it did not take necessary action to transfer him to an advanced hospital that can treat his diseases in this case an Israeli hospital. As a result, his health condition deteriorated further until he died in the intensive care unit of al-Nasser Hospital in Gaza City.
Less than one month later, the child's sister died in similar circumstances. The Ministry of Health did not learn the lesson from what happened to her brother. On 01 December 2011, Hiba Azzam Sahwil, born on 03 January 2003, who was also suffering from growth retardation and muscle atrophy, died. On 27 November 2011, she obtained Form No. 1 to receive medical treatment abroad. On 27 November 2011, she obtained financial coverage for treatment in al-Maqassed Hospital in Jerusalem. On 28 November 2011, an appointment was arranged for her on 13 December 2011. However, her health condition deteriorated on 29 November 2011 and she was admitted into the intensive care unit of al-Nasser Hospital. The Ministry of Health was informed and al-Maqassed Hospital was contacted to schedule an appointment at an earlier date. However, at approximately 12:30 on 30 November 2011, al-Maqassed Hospital announced it would not admit her because of its inability to treat her. The Ministry of health was informed about that and was requested to immediately transfer the child to Ekhilov Hospital in Israel, but the Ministry refused to transfer her. At approximately 11:30 on 01 December 2011, a financial coverage was sent to al-Mizan Hospital in the West Bank, but the child had already died at approximately 11:05.
PCHR is following up the case of a sister of the two dead children, Ayat Azzam Sahwil, born on 31 October 2003, who suffers from the same disease. On 22 November 2011, she obtained Form No. 1 to received medical treatment abroad. On 27 November 2011, she obtained a financial coverage to receive medical treatment in al-Maqassed Hospital in Jerusalem. The Ministry of Health was informed of her sister's death and was urged to save Ayat's life by transferring her immediately to an Israeli Hospital. At approximately 13:30 on 01 December 2011, she obtained a financial coverage for treatment in Ekhilov Hospital in Israel, and coordination for her access to the hospital is ongoing.
It is worth noting that PCHR has sent a letter to Mr. Nizar Masalma, Director General of Medical Insurance in the West Bank, demanding him to allow 24 patients, who suffer from serious and chronic diseases, to continue receiving medical treatment in advanced medical facilities. PCHR is still waiting for a response.
In light of the above:
- PCHR calls upon the Ministry of Health to recognize the repercussions of the decision to decrease transfers of patients to Israeli hospitals and its impact on the lives of patients from the Gaza Strip who suffer from serious diseases, and calls for immediate suspension of this decision pending providing adequate alternatives that can provide similar health services to patients from the Gaza Strip;
- PCHR warns of the deterioration of health conditions of dozens of patients who suffer from serious diseases and cannot access medical treatment in Israeli hospitals, and warns of a possible increase in the number of deaths among these patients if the decision remains in effect;
- PCHR calls for an immediate solution to this problem which threatens the lives of dozens of patients, for whom the Palestinian Basic Law and international and regional human rights instruments ensure enjoying the highest attainable level of health, including access to necessary health services, medicines and adequate treatment to maintain the life and health of every human being.