Gaza's cancer patients suffer crippling lack of access to treatment

Gaza's cancer patients suffer crippling lack of access to treatment
Cancer patients in the Gaza Strip are suffering a lack of access to treatment, with Israel preventing essential medical equipment from entering.
3 min read
30 November, 2022
Palestinians are much more likely to die from cancer than Israelis and patients in other countries due to the severe shortage of medical equipment [Getty]

Cancer patients in the Gaza Strip have a crippling lack of access to urgently needed treatment, making their chance of survival considerably lower than Israeli patients.

Many essential treatments and services, including radiotherapy and chemotherapy, are unavailable and Israeli authorities frequently "arbitrarily" deny or delay Palestinians' requests to seek treatment elsewhere, according to a statement released by Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) last week.

Six patients, including three children, have died so far this year after grappling with such delays, the UK-based charity said. 

Last month, 46 percent of medications for chemotherapy and blood diseases were also completely out of stock in Gaza, "meaning they have less than one month’s supply left".

"Israel’s discriminatory permit system risks the lives of patients… there are no radiotherapy services [and] certain chemotherapy treatments are completely unavailable… Gaza’s healthcare system is in crisis," MAP said. 

Doctors in the region have said that Israel has blocked essential materials from reaching Gaza.

"Radiotherapy machines and radioactive materials are prevented from the Israeli side to enter Gaza… we have a lot of limitations in the radiological department such as the machines used to identify and diagnose the cancer… we [also] have a shortage in the medical supply," Ahmed Al-Naji, a surgical oncologist specialising in breast cancer, said at a MAP press conference on Tuesday.

Overall, women with breast cancer in Israel are 23 percent more likely to survive within five years of contracting the illness than Palestinian women.

Medical shortages mean that courses of chemotherapy may be interrupted, and their effectiveness reduced.

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"We are in the 21st century and I don’t know why our people should be suffering from this," Al-Naji said, adding there is only one MRI machine in the Gaza Strip - which has a population of over two million people - used by both cancer and non-cancer patients.

Travel expenses and other costs are also placing a heavy burden on Palestinian families seeking treatment outside Gaza.

"If treatment was here with us in Gaza, patients would be more comfortable and they could psychologically relax and not need to pay so much in expenses to travel… God willing, I hope the situation improves,"  one breast cancer patient in Gaza told The New Arab during the press conference.

The patient was denied a permit to access care outside of Gaza four times before she was eventually able to travel to Egypt to seek treatment. Others "don’t have the financial means" to do so, she said.

In August, 42 percent of permit applications were denied or delayed, with no response given by the end of patients' scheduled appointments.

If patients wish to seek treatment outside of Gaza they must submit a formal request to the Israeli authorities via the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

Typical locations where they seek treatment after leaving Gaza include the West Bank, Israel, Jordan, and Egypt.

Gaza has been under an Israeli siege for 15 years, ever since Hamas took over control of the territory following a conflict with Fatah in 2007.