Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Suffering alone: Gazan parents unable to accompany children for treatment in West Bank

By K. Künzl - November 11, 2019
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Gaza] [Health Care] [Hebron]

Mohammad Amru Al Qais Muhaisen, a nine-month-old baby from Gaza, lay comatose and alone in the solace of the Palestine Red Crescent hospital in Hebron. The sounds of a ventilator filling the gaps where his mother’s comforting prayers should have been.

Baby Mohammad sought medical treatment after a minor leg fracture rendered him septic within a week. When doctors in Gaza failed to diagnose him, he was referred to a hospital in Hebron for treatment.  

Mohammad’s grandfather was the only family member approved for a permit to accompany him after two and a half weeks of attempts. His parents and grandmother were rejected without reason or justification from the Israeli authorities.

According to Muawyiah Hassan, a pediatric resident at Palestine Red Crescent Hospital in Hebron, the decades-long Israeli blockade of Gaza has prevented the inflow of vital medical supplies, depriving hospitals of basic medicine and leaving thousands to seek financial aid and permits for treatment at hospitals in the West Bank.

A WHO report reveals that 2,100 companion permit applications were submitted to Israeli authorities to cross Erez, the only pedestrian crossing between Israel and Gaza, to accompany patients for September, most of which were parents accompanying children under the age of 18.  Each Gaza patient is allotted one companion to go with them.

Out of those thousands of applications, the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, COGAT, a unit of the Israeli Military Defense, who controls the issuance of permits for Palestinians leaving Gaza approved just 47 per cent of companion applications. 17 per cent were denied, and the remaining 36 per cent were delayed with no response by the time of the patient’s appointment.

Dr Hassan spoke about the direct impact this tight control over leaving permits has on patients.

“I witnessed the case of a young girl who passed away in our hospitals, she came alone in the ambulance, the occupation forced this young girl to die alone, I will never forget that day,” Dr Hassan told Palestine Monitor.

According to Ghada Majadleh, Director of oPt Department for Human Rights Israel for Physicians for Human Rights, a referral by a medical committee can take two to three weeks, and patients should submit permit applications 23 days before their appointment.

“COGAT says this is the amount of time they need to evaluate the permits but we find this is usually not the reality,” Majadleh stated.

In order to obtain medical treatment in the West Bank, Gazans must endure a series of bureaucratic hurdles during which time can determine whether a patient lives or dies.

According to Majadleh, patients must first get a referral from a doctor in Gaza which is either denied or approved by the Palestine Authority Ministry of Health on the basis of whether the treatment can be administered in Gaza.  The case is then submitted to COGAT and reviewed by officials who then pass it on to Shin Beit security forces for background checks.

Males under the age of 55 and females under the age of 45 applying for permits to leave Gaza are subject to additional security screening, according to Majadleh, which can cause additional months of delay.

The civil admin[istration] in Gaza advises this, but we still encourage parents to apply. We know and acknowledge how important it is that they are there, psychologically, for the child, we believe it helps the healing process” Majadleh told Palestine Monitor.

In baby Mohammad’s case, all of his female relatives were denied a companion permit. 

“We did not know when was the next time we would see Mohammad, we constantly feared he was in pain, wondering why his mother wasn't there to comfort him”   Salma Abdullah Muhaisen, baby Mohammad’s aunt, told Palestine Monitor

After the abscess was removed, with no full-time staff available to care for him during post-operation, doctors were forced to send baby Mohammad back to Gaza for an uncertain fate.  It was not until Anwar Refaeya, a 24-year-old business administration graduate from Hebron answered the hospitals calls for female volunteers.

“They asked for only women because they wanted the boy to see his mother’s face in mine, and be comforted by this.  How can you see this baby’s face and not want to help?” Refaeya said.

Refaeya quickly became known in the media as a “volunteering mother” who provided constant care for baby Mohammad during his strenuous two-week recovery.

“He was crying in the morning and at night because of the pain, I never slept.  He would never accept a bottle from anyone else or stop crying unless I held him,” Refaeya said.

Aside from psychological support, Refaeya provided a constant point of contact for the parents.  

“His mom did not have a computer or phone so baby Mohammad’s aunt would come to their house in Gaza and set up a call.  She was so happy every time, you could tell she felt safe and secure that he was with me, she would cry and pray.” 

Now that he is back in the arms of his mother in Gaza, recuperating, Refaeya maintains contact with the family.  She explains how baby Mohammed cries when he hears her voice over the phone.

Refaeya fondly gazes at a drawing she made of baby Mohammad. “He will always be my special love,” she says through tears.

“We suffered so much when Mohammed was away, Anwar was our only reassurance during this dark time, we have asked God a lot of goodness to this girl,” Muhaisen said.



Lead image: 24-year-old Anwar Refaeya holding baby Mohammad at the hospital in Hebron.


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