31 March 2009 United Nations agencies operating in the Gaza Strip have expressed serious concern over the halting of patients leaving the area for specialised hospital treatment after Hamas took control of the health department tasked with making referrals abroad.
On 22 March, the Hamas de facto authorities in Gaza took over the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health Referral Abroad Department, which oversees the process by which local people receive approval to travel for medical care.
Since then the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health in the West Bank town of Ramallah has not approved or funded applications for treatment outside of Gaza, affecting many patients with serious and complicated conditions.
In addition, Israel and Egypt will not allow these patients to exit Gaza unless they have been approved by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.
According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), around 900 patients a month were being referred outside of Gaza for treatment at hospitals in Israel, East Jerusalem, Egypt, and Jordan in the first half of 2008.
“We are very worried about the situation,” said Tony Laurance, acting Head of WHO in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“We have already seen referrals affected, and patients will die if they do not receive the treatment they require,” he added.
The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, together with WHO, has intervened to seek the urgent reversal of last week’s decision, but have not received a positive response.
“It is not acceptable for essential patient care to be stopped because of an internal political dispute or unilateral steps,” said Maxwell Gaylard, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator.
“We call for a rapid solution to be found among the parties concerned to enable referrals to resume and patients’ rights to be protected and for Hamas to reverse their decision so that a way forward can be found,” he added.
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