In the Gaza Strip, World Cancer Day is observed amid extreme conditions faced by patients, with cancer patients in particular facing a myriad of obstacles to care. Statistics from health authorities show that 8,515 persons in Gaza have been diagnosed with cancer, including 608 children (7%) and 4,705 women (55.3%).
The threats to cancer patients’ lives are due to chronic shortages in medicines, medical equipment, and fuel and severe shortages in trained personnel. On average 58% of the 65 different types of medicines needed for cancer and leukemia patients were unavailable in 2018. The shortage rose to 80% in April 2018, limiting patients’ access to medical treatment and increasing the threat to their lives.
Restrictions by Israeli authorities on the movement of patients stand in stark violation of the obligations to facilitate access to medical care for protected persons. The lack of radiotherapy treatment, diagnostic equipment, and low capacity of healthcare centers mean that treatment outside of Gaza is inevitable for many patients; however, the Israeli authorities continue to delay or deny the approval of exit permits required for them to leave. Documentation by Al Mezan Center for Human Rights shows that 38% of patients cannot access medical treatment centers outside Gaza. Meanwhile, the Israeli security continues to use patients’ permits as leverage to obtain information. Patients also continue to be arrested while on their way to receive treatment. In 2018, Israeli authorities arrested five patients, hindering their access to care. In this context, of closure and delayed access to care, Al Mezan documented the death of 45 cancer patients between 2016 and 2018.
Other contextual factors weigh heavily on public health. Such factors include the shortage of sanitation and safe water, food insecurity and air pollution. Also, Gaza’s chronic electricity crisis and widespread poverty and unemployment worsen conditions.
All duty bearers, Israeli and Palestinian, have an obligation to maintain, to the highest attainable standard and commensurate with their ability to do so, the health of the population. Israel, as the Occupying Power, must immediately end its closure policy that results in severe violations of international law and ensure that patients and vulnerable groups have timely access to medical treatment and enjoy an environment conducive to their well-being, including their freedom of movement.
Al Mezan stresses that the conditions of patients in Gaza requires urgent, extensive and multilateral interventions. Al Mezan calls on: