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PSR Members Report on Recent trip to Gaza

June 16, 2010

In May, PSR members from Washington and Florida journeyed to Gaza to offer support for medical colleagues and members of Gaza’s care-giving community.  For six members of this delegation, this was a return visit to Gaza.  Last October, they were part of the first Washington PSR service group to work, under the auspices of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, in Gaza’s hospitals and clinics.

The 25 mile long, 3 to 7 mile wide territory of Gaza is home to 1 1/2 million people, over half of them refugees from 1948 and 1967 conflicts with Israel.  Since 2006, Hamas has held political domain in Palestinian Gaza and for the last 3 1/2 years, Israel has maintained a blockade at the land, air and sea borders of this small land.  In December, 2008 and January, 2009, in stated response to rockets fired from Gaza to nearby towns of Israel, Gaza was attacked by Israeli forces – by air and on land.  Nearly 1400 Gazans, over half of them children, were killed and 5000 were wounded.  Significant destruction was done to the physical structures of Gaza – homes, schools, hospitals, mosques, fields, piping, electricity, etc.  Rebuilding has been nearly impossible since the blockade has barred importation of building materials.  Until last week, following the disastrous journey of the Free Gaza flotilla, Gaza’s southern border with Egypt had been closed for most of the last 3 1/2 years.   A series of extremely dangerous tunnels from Rafah to Egypt provides a lifeline for bringing goods to Gaza.

The result of all these events recent years is a public health disaster.  Raw or partially treated sewage flows freely into the Mediterranean and seeps into the earth.  The primary source of drinking water for Gaza is a single aquifer and this source is now polluted with seeping sewage and saline from the ocean.  The World Health Organization reports that 90 - 95 percent of the people in Gaza do not have access to clean water.  Destruction of Gaza’s power plant results in power cuts for all of Gaza, four to eight hours/day.  Much of the electricity used in Gaza is provided by generators (brought in through the tunnels).  Generators pollute the air and asthma is on the rise.  The rate of chronic malnutrition is now 10.2%.  The mental health of the population is at constant risk.  Medical professionals who once traveled abroad to study or revitalize their educations are now unable to journey beyond the borders of their country.  Many medicines and medical equipment and parts to repair and maintain medical equipment are not available.

The delegation’s brief ten day visit allowed time for work and meetings with colleagues.  Drs. Rich Grady, Laura Hart, Howard Putter and Don Mellman worked in their surgical specialties.  Don Mellman also worked with groups on conflict resolution strategies. Dr. Bob Haynes saw patients and consulted in cardiology clinics.  Debra Goff, oncology nurse, worked in hospital clinics and taught classes.  Dr. David Hall, Anne Hall and Gerri Haynes worked with the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme – consulting and teaching.  They hope to take another group of providers to Gaza in the coming year.  In addition to the members of this group, the specialists in Gaza expressed the hope that they also might be joined by a retinal specialist, an oncologist and a specialist in treating children who have autism.   For more information, contact Gerri Haynes iggydog@aol.com

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