On World Health Day, Al Mezan calls on the international community to ensure accountability and access to reparations for victims denied their right to health

World Health Day is celebrated annually on 7 April, the day in 1948 when the First World Health Assembly was held that created the World Health Organization (WHO). For 2022, the theme is "Our Planet, Our Health".

In the Gaza Strip, this occasion is marked by persistent obstacles, risks and threats to health, which prevent universal health coverage and the realization of integrated approaches and health programs aimed at localizing health services. These circumstances drive Palestinian patients---notably oncology and cardiology patients---whose treatment is unavailable in Gaza to seek medical treatment outside the Strip.

Yet, Israeli authorities intentionally impose restrictions on patients' freedom of movement through a capricious and discriminatory permit system that arbitrarily limits exit permits and prevents many Palestinian patients from accessing hospitals and medical care outside of Gaza. According to Al Mezan's data, in 2021 the Israeli authorities refused to issue 36% of patients' exit permit requests by the time of the hospital appointment, causing patients serious health complications.

Further, Israeli authorities ban the entry of medicines, medical devices, equipment, spare parts and other materials necessary to fix and maintain medical devices. These policies prevent hospitals in the Gaza Strip from accessing certain essential diagnostic and therapeutic resources, including the use of radiology and imagining devices such as CT and PET scanners. According to available figures, in February 2022, the Ministry of Health in Gaza faced shortages of drugs and medical disposables, with 203 drug items (39% of the essential medicine list) and 174 medical disposables (20% of essential list) at zero stock, meaning with less than one month supply. The deficit continues in drugs for kidney, cancer and blood diseases, as well as mental, maternal and child health. In addition, the Israeli military has targeted and destroyed or damaged health facilities during its recurrent military offensives against Gaza, including during the attacks in May 2021.

The Palestinian political division has also contributed to the deterioration of health conditions in the Gaza Strip. For example, a marked decline has been noted in the number of medical referrals processed by the Palestinian Ministry of Health for patients seeking treatment outside Gaza. These procedures, which are the entry point for applications to the Israeli authorities, are themselves complex and opaque, and prove to be an additional barrier for patients up against Israel's closure policy. Palestinian duty bearers must increase coordination between the health administrations in Gaza and the West Bank in order to develop health services locally and mitigate the barriers to health posed by the occupying power.

Al Mezan expresses concern over the Israeli authorities' continued practices and policies that systematically violate the right to health of Palestinians, particularly in view of the deterioration and decline of health determinants in the Strip. For instance, 2021 saw as a slight increase in the rate of pregnant women who suffered anemia. There were also 34 recorded cases of maternal mortality compared to 13 cases in 2020. Last year also witnessed a deterioration in the economic conditions that affect health indicators, with approximately 64% of Gaza households enduring food insecurity and an unemployment rate of 47% of the labor force.

Based on these facts and indicators, Al Mezan calls on:

  • The international community to take immediate and tangible steps to stop Israeli violations of the right to adequate health of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip; to pressure Israel to reconsider its permit system and ensure the access of patients and their accompaniers to medical facilities outside the Gaza Strip without barriers or delays; to put an end to Israel's policy of denial and delay of patients' requests, and allow and facilitate the passage of all medical devices, equipment and supplies to the Gaza Strip.
  • The Palestinian parties to ensure Palestinians enjoy their right to adequate and equal medical care, improve the level and quality of local health services, address the deficit in medicines and medical supplies, and increase the level of coordination between health the administrations in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in order to ensure patients' access to health care services and to achieve the goals of developing and localizing health services.
  • International and specialized organizations to continue supporting the Palestinian health sector in order to properly enable it to deliver adequate health services to people and to provide humanitarian support to ensure Palestinians enjoy their right to health.
  • The international community to activate accountability mechanisms and ensure victims' access to remedies, especially patients who are subjected to repeated Israeli violations of international law.