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Gaza Health Project

prepared by Pontifical Mission, Jerusalem
photos by Karen Lagerquist


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Socioeconomic situation: In a report on the plight of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli daily Ma’ariv described the living conditions as appalling; these conditions have reached a degree never seen before in the Strip. The report also recounted the widespread dilemma of families forced to sell off their furniture to raise money to buy food. The daily concluded that the Strip has reached a potentially explosive situation.

The commissioner-general of the State of Israel said recently that the conditions “economic [and] social and security [are] worse than ever” in the Occupied Territories.

The current closure of the Occupied Territories is the cause for this situation. Since the beginning of the closure on 28 March, unemployment has reached almost 50 percent in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And without explanation Gazan laborers crossing into Israel often have their ID cards confiscated and their permits destroyed.

It is estimated that since the beginning of the closure, $750,000 per day, totalling more than $30 million, has been lost from Gaza’s already poor economy.

Violence continues to escalate, with over 80 persons killed in the last six months; compare this to the total of 59 deaths in 1992. Amnesty International in its statement dated 27 May said it “believes that many of these killings are absolutely unjustifiable and that some may amount to extrajudicial executions.” Recently 275 Palestinians have been injured by the authorities, including 80 children.

The consequences and effects of the siege (as the closure is appropriately termed) on the health conditions of Palestinians are devastating; especially for the most vulnerable segments of the society – women, children and the elderly.

The infant mortality rate has soared. UNICEF recently stated that the rate for Gazan children under the age of one year was 41 deaths per 1,000 births, 51 deaths per 1,000 births for children under five.

The number of patients from the West Bank coming to the three major hospitals in East Jerusalem has dropped by more than a third. Permits to cross the green line and permits to enter East Jerusalem are only sparingly given. Local clinics and village health care centers try to absorb the increase, but with difficulty. Those coming to the centers are unable to pay even nominal fees due to unemployment.

Project descriptions: The Gaza Health Project (GHP) is a joint effort by Gazan health care professionals and institutions to address the health care needs of the Gazan population in lieu of any government structure. Below are the components included in the 1994-95 phase.

Family Health Care Centers. When the Near East Council of Churches (NECC) began the Centers six years ago, conditions were bad. Today they are worse. Each center has its own staff including a doctor, a chemist, a lab technician, nurses and midwives. The clinics are open six days a week with the staff concentrating on prenatal, sick-baby and well-baby care. Educational activities and opportunities are also provided for mothers.

“We consider the NECC center in Zeitun [one location] as holy as a mosque or church,” one mother said. “It is essential and vital to every single person in the area.”

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