MSF responds to a lack of essential medicines in Gaza

January 20, 2011

MSF responds to a lack of essential medicines in Gaza © Bruno Stevens/Cosmos

In late January, the cardiology department at Shifa Hospital contacted our staff because the unit was short of protamine sulfate. Six to eight vials of this medicine per patient are required to restore normal blood coagulation after surgery. At that time, 100 patients were awaiting cardiac surgery but drug shortages had halted all surgical activity – including in the case of emergencies – thus endangering patients' lives.

On January 20, MSF made a donation of protamine sulfate to the Shifa cardiology department, covering the hospital's needs for the next 1½ months. What will happen after that time? For now, no other aid organizations have arranged to donate this drug.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is negotiating with the two Palestinian health authorities to reach a long-term agreement that would end chronic drug shortages, which affect patients first.

The lack of cooperation between the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and authorities in the Gaza Strip harms the Gaza health system. For example, a strike was called in 2008 in the Gaza public hospital system. The health facilities estimated that 50 – 80% of health workers -- trapped in the conflict of interests between the two "competing" health authorities – observed the strike.

Inter-Palestinian disagreements – added to the Israeli blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip in 2007 – have also caused problems with regard to drug supplies. On average, health facilities are chronically short of 20% of medicines and medical supplies (100 – 200 items). Shortages have worsened since August 2010 and in recent weeks, between 160 and 180 items have been lacking.

Over the last few years, MSF has made multiple donations to Gaza hospitals to address shortages (fuel, medicines and medical supplies) affecting health facilities' operations.

Since 2008, MSF has regularly criticized the politicization of the Palestinian health sector and the impacts of the conflicts, both internal and external, on patients deprived of critical medications and medical care.

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