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In April, 2014, the sixth group of medical professionals sponsored by WPSR and hosted by the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme journeyed to Gaza to offer care and consultation. This group consisted of two pediatric urologists, an adult urologist, a cardiologist, a neurosurgeon, a pediatrician whose specialty is autism, a trauma surgeon, and a palliative care nurse.
Under siege by Israel, Gaza’s access to medical equipment and supplies, education, medicines, and specialty care is extremely limited. While our teams have provided urgently needed care, perhaps the most important aspect of our visits to Gaza is the development of collegial friendships and trust. The physicians and nurses we have worked with in Gaza are deeply motivated to provide excellent care for the population they serve. It is our hope that future visits will focus on assisting the development of sustainable systems of medical education.
History: Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility delegates first visited Gaza in January, 1993. Following that visit, WPSR members returned to Gaza many times to gain firsthand information on the situation there. Gaza is one of earth’s most densely populated areas. Twenty-five miles long and five to seven miles wide, Gaza is home to more than 1.7 million people. Gaza was internally occupied by Israel from 1967 – 2005. Following the election of a Hamas government in 2006, Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza. That siege and external occupation continue, making travel and import and export of goods extremely difficult. Land borders are controlled by Israel and Egypt, and the sea border is controlled by Israel. In 2008/2009, Israel’s air/land/sea attack on Gaza resulted in the death of nearly 1,400 people and the injury of more than 5,000 people – the majority of whom were civilians. Periodic bombing continues, perpetuating a state of traumatic shock in Gaza.
Environmental health conditions in Gaza are grave. Water and air are severely contaminated. More than 95% of the water is contaminated, and the UN reports that by 2020 there will be no clean water in Gaza. Sewage empties into the sea without being fully treated. Electrical power is routinely cut for 8 to 16 hours a day. Even food production is hampered. Access to deep water fishing is denied by the siege, and one-third of the land suitable for crops is in the Israeli monitored “no go” or security zone near the land border between Gaza and Israel. The level of poverty is severe; unemployment estimates are as high as 85%. Our teams are always grateful to return to Gaza, where medical assistance is so greatly needed.
For daily blog entries from the trip: www.larryjohnsononline.com