October 27, 2008 / 3:17 PM / 9 years ago

Gaza hospitals suffering from lack of medicine

GAZA (Reuters) - The nearly empty corridors of Gaza's main Shifa Hospital on Monday testified to the ailing state of health care in the Hamas-controlled territory.

A crisis-level shortage of drugs and spare parts for medical equipment and a two-month-old strike by health care workers have combined to add more misery to the lives of the 1.5 million inhabitants of the impoverished Gaza Strip.

At Shifa Hospital, kidney patient Ibrahin Ghosha waited in vain for a technician to fix a dialysis machine.

"It's all about luck. One time you come and the machine is working, the other time, it is out of order," Ghosha said.

Last week, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said virtually no medical supplies were reaching the Gaza Strip, putting the lives of several hundred seriously ill patients at risk.

The number of surgical operations has fallen by 40 percent in the territory's hospitals, while admissions were down 20 percent, the ICRC said.

It blamed a "standstill in cooperation" between Palestinian authorities in the West Bank, where President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction holds sway, and Hamas for imports of medical supplies having slowed to a "trickle."

The ICRC also urged Israel, which tightened a blockade of the territory after Hamas seized control from Fatah in June 2007, to facilitate timely deliveries of medical supplies and equipment.

Hussein Ashour, Shifa's director-general, said the hospital's reserve of up to 90 kinds of drugs had run out, including those needed to treat cancer patients.

Most of the hospital's medical scanning equipment was not functioning and patients were being asked to go to private health centers instead, he said.

"We even lack the paper -- the official forms -- so we sometimes write on the back of used paper or turn school copybooks into prescription pads," Ashour said.

HEART SURGERY

Doctors said Shifa had suspended heart operations for the past year because of a lack of spare parts to repair equipment needed for surgery.

Antoine Grand, the ICRC's chief representative in the Gaza Strip, urged rival Fatah and Hamas authorities to cooperate and "make sure the health sector does not suffer."

Grand said the ICRC continued to provide hospitals with what he called "life-saving" assistance but could only partially alleviate the crisis.

Eyad El-Sarraj, head of the Gaza Mental Health Program, said Gazans' mental health also was suffering due to unemployment and poverty deepened by Israel's blockade.

He said his office had invited dozens of foreign physicians and mental health experts, including Israelis, to the Gaza Strip to discuss the problem but Israel denied them passage into the territory.

"The mental health situation is quite serious in Gaza and we fear for future generations of children who are brought up today in such an environment of deprivation, despair and hoplessness," Sarraj told Reuters.

Editing by Michael Roddy

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