On Sunday, 12 August 2018, the Ministry of Health in Gaza announced that chemotherapy would no longer be available to cancer patients in the Gaza Strip due to lack of supplies coming from the Palestinian Authority. According to health officials, the supply of medicines vital for administering chemotherapy has been irregular for the past 18 months. The shortage of these medicines has now peaked at its highest rate of 75 percent out of stock—with 45 types out of the necessary 60 being at zero stock in Gaza.
“Many procedures cannot be delivered with different medicines missing”, said Dr. Mohammed Abu Silmiya, director of Abdulaziz Al-Rantisi Hospital for children, which hosts a unit for cancer patients. “Colon and lung cancer as well as lymphoma patients cannot be provided with the necessary therapy now,” he said. “Filgrastim [branded as Neupogen], which stimulates the production of white blood cells to improve the immunity against bacterial infections, has run out of stock. The filgrastim injection is vital for the patients’ continued ability to undergo chemotherapy at appropriate doses. The hospital needs about 1,000 filgrastim injections every month. In the past two months, there were only about 100”, Dr. Abbu Silmiya said.
The growing shortage of medicines in general, and of medicines required by cancer patients in particular, due to Palestinian Authority measures compounds the suffering of patients and their families who are attempting to navigate an already crippled healthcare system.
The Israeli authorities’ restrictions on the entry of medical supplies and equipment into Gaza within the context of closure, and on doctors traveling outside Gaza to pursue further medical training and specialization, means that Gaza’s hospitals are severely hindered in providing care. When treatment is unavailable in Gaza, patients are referred to Israel’s bureaucratic patient-permit system for care usually in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, or Israel. Delays and denials by Israel of permit requests for patients to access hospitals outside of Gaza subject patients to extreme psychological stress and result in irregular or missed treatment. These restrictions run counter to international law obligations and should be lifted immediately in order for Gaza’s patients to receive timely access to adequate medical care.
The irregular supply of medication to Gaza by the Palestinian Authority serves to compound the issue by forcing more cancer patients to be referred outside of Gaza for treatment. This also adds unnecessarily to the fiscal expenditure related to medical referrals.
The obligation on the Palestinian authorities to protect and fulfil the right to health necessitates that the authorities set aside political differences and collaborate on methods of ensuring patient access to necessary treatment. The delays in supplying vital medicines to Gaza contradicts established procedures of the Ministry of Health, including provisions of the 2017-2022 National Health Strategy that were made in line with UN Sustainable Development Goals. Palestine is obligated to fulfil the provisions of the Strategy, and Al Mezan makes specific note of the third UN Sustainable Development Goal of ensuring healthy lives and promoting wellbeing for all.
Al Mezan urges the Palestinian Authority to take prompt and effective action to ensure timely and sufficient availability of medicine in the Gaza Strip. All concerned parties must seek the protection and promotion of the right to health with neutrality and impartiality.
Al Mezan calls on UN agencies and international organizations to provide indispensable support to the health sector in the Gaza Strip in order to improve local capacities to manage the deteriorating situation shaped by the inter-related electricity, water, and health crises.