A disturbing report from Save the Children reveals that nearly 400 children in Gaza have been denied permits to access critical healthcare in the occupied West Bank during the first six months of 2023, effectively leaving them without access to life-saving surgery and urgent medication. This appalling situation has raised concerns about the dire state of healthcare in the region, especially for children who are suffering the most.
In May 2023 alone, nearly 100 children’s applications to the Israeli occupation were denied or left unanswered.
The Ministry of Health in Gaza reported that, during the hostilities between May 9 and May 13, hundreds of patients and their caregivers were unable to reach vital medical care in the West Bank and Jerusalem, as well as in lands occupied in 1948 by Israel.
Tragically, this is not a new phenomenon. Last year, three Palestinian children lost their lives while waiting for exit-permits, including a 19-month-old child with a congenital heart defect and a 16-year-old child battling leukemia. The restrictions placed on medical equipment and medication entering Gaza have left families in despair, with no access to chemotherapy or radiology treatments.
The story of Zeinab, a nine-year-old girl from Gaza, highlights the heartbreaking reality faced by many children. Zeinab has undergone three unsuccessful surgeries to treat nerve damage in her leg, a condition she has had since birth. Her family has been struggling for over a year to obtain a permit for her and a caregiver to seek treatment outside Gaza.
“I felt very bad when my application was denied. It was during Eid; I really wanted to go and play with my friends. I wish I could run and wear trousers. The device they fit on my leg hurts when I walk, when I go to school. I hope I can have it removed. I am a child, and I wish to be treated like other children,” Zeinab expressed.
Her grandmother, Maryam, added, “I often find Zeinab crying; she tells me she’s in pain, that she wishes she could have this device removed and play and dress up. Why doesn’t she have a right to medical treatment like any other girl?”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cancer treatment and diagnostic services account for the most significant reasons for patient permit requests to exit Gaza from 2019 to 2021. Shockingly, during this same period, 32% of children with approved permits to travel for healthcare did not have a parent approved to accompany them, forcing them to travel with different relatives or not travel at all.
Gaza’s healthcare system remains on the brink of collapse after 16 years of choking Israeli blockade, with recurrent escalations of violence exacerbating the crisis. These restrictions have led to increasing poverty rates and shortages of essential medical supplies in local markets.
A recent survey conducted by Save the Children found that malnutrition is prevalent among Gaza families living in ‘access restricted areas,’ near Gaza border, where they witness frequent Israeli attacks, lack access to basic needs, and suffer from poor public infrastructure and waterborne diseases. Shockingly, 10% of families surveyed reported losing a child to preventable causes before the age of 5.
Save the Children has called upon the Israeli occupation to end the blockade of Gaza, citing it as the root cause of ongoing violations of children’s fundamental rights. They urge the Israeli government to fulfill its legal obligations as an occupying power by ensuring the protection of Gaza patients, promoting unhindered access to essential healthcare, and upholding the right to health and healthcare for Gaza’s children and their families.
Jason Lee, Save the Children’s Country Director in the occupied Palestinian territory, stressed, “Denying children healthcare is inhumane and an infringement of their rights, and separating children from their parents during treatment can make it even harder for those children to cope. The 16-year blockade is impacting every aspect of children’s lives, including their physical and mental health. This systemic violence and deprivation have to stop.”
As of now, only a third of the $502 million required in the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan for the occupied Palestinian territory has been funded, highlighting the urgent need for humanitarian assistance in the region. The international community is being called upon to act swiftly to address this dire situation and prevent further suffering for the children of Gaza.