Gaza strip: a specialised surgical mission
August 17, 2012
MSF has been working in the Gaza strip for over ten years. The healthcare system in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, and particularly in Gaza, is more advanced than many systems we work in elsewhere. Yet the offer of certain types of highly specialised healthcare still falls short of the mark. The situation is exacerbated by the Israeli embargo, which, introduced in 2007, has weighed heavily on Gaza's population, already sapped by years of conflict.
The Gaza embargo has repercussions on both the economy and health. For instance, the arbitrary deliveries of fuel impede the supply and smooth functioning of the only power station still running in Gaza. Power cuts occur daily, and last for several hours. The population resorts to the use of generators, poor quality gas bottles, candles, kerosene lamps... All sources of serious domestic accidents, involving women and children more often than not.
As a consequence, our teams have observed a notable rise in the number of burn cases among our patients a little over the last two years. These wounds are debilitating and require reparatory surgery, called "repeat surgery", after the initial delivery of care. For particularly complicated cases, highly specialised surgery is required. But few patients are allowed to leave Gaza for surgery abroad (Jordan, Israel, Egypt...), and specialised surgeons in Gaza are too few in number to cover the needs.
Compelled to address the situation, MSF opened a reparatory surgery programme in July 2010 in collaboration with the public hospital of Nasser, located in the city of Khan younis. Burn cases represent over 60% of the patients receiving surgical care from our teams (surgeons, operating theatre nurses and anaesthesiologists) who conduct short term missions in the hospital several times a year. The other patients we treat are suffering from the aftermath of accidents or congenital anomalies.
Another major objective of this programme is to encourage a transfer of skills to the local medical team. But the embargo hampers this too, as Dr Hassan HAMDAN, head of the surgical service in Nasser, testifies: "The embargo also has a major impact on us, the doctors and surgeons. It's really difficult to attend a training session abroad, for example. The expatriates' time here is more than welcome. Things have improved and progressed over the last two years, thanks to cooperation and exchanges with the MSF international teams. We gain from each expatriate's knowledge and experience".
Since the surgical programme began in 2010, 490 patients have received surgery. In over ten years of working in this volatile context, regularly subjected to spurts of violence, our activities have evolved and our offer of healthcare diversified so as to respond to emerging new needs: psychological care, physical therapy, surgery... Thus, in early 2012, when we scaled up to two hand surgeons, MSF opened its first unit dedicated to physiotherapy of the hand so as to cover all patients with such a need. This is how we try, as best we can, to stay in step with specific medical needs - left unattended in the local healthcare system - and the direct or indirect consequences of the violence generated by the Israeli-Palestine and inter-Palestine conflicts.