Israel’s War Against Palestine: Documenting the Military Occupation of Palestinian and Arab Lands

PHR: Israel Prevents 17 Sight-impaired from Leaving Gaza for Treatment

11 January 2010

By WAFA – 11 Jan 2009

TEL AVIV — Physicians for Human Rights- Israel –(PHR-Israel) said the Israeli authorities at Erez checkpoint this week prevented the exit of 17 sight-impaired patients, suffering from various eye diseases, from the Gaza Strip in order to undergo cornea transplants, a treatment that is not available in the Gaza health system.

Because of this delay, the medical window of opportunity to perform the transplants for these patients was closed, because corneas can be transplanted only within the shortest time frame (24-48 hours after they are extracted from the donor’s body). The patients from Gaza whose exit was prevented will therefore have to wait for another donation, which may or may not happen.

At the beginning of the week PHR-Israel received an appeal from the Musallam Medical Center in Gaza. According to the appeal, a large group of 14 patients from Gaza, who were invited to Ramallah for cornea transplants from Sunday to Wednesday this week (January 3-5, 2010), did not reach their destination. Three other patients approached PHR-Israel separately. The group of patients includes some who were waiting weeks or even months for cornea transplants. The longest wait was 31-year-old S.A., who has been waiting for this operation for three years.

The main Musallam Medical Center in Ramallah this week received two deliveries from the US with dozens of corneas, donated by Tissue Bank International, an American organization that facilitates cornea and tissue transplants. Every year corneas are sent during Christmas break, during which such operations do not take place in the US, as a donation to the Palestinian health system, and dedicated especially to eye patients from Gaza.

The inquiry by the medical center in Ramallah raised the concern that the exit of the patients from Gaza was being prevented by the Israeli authorities, and accordingly PHR-Israel on Sunday made an urgent request to the DCO in Gaza, responsible for issuing exit permits to patients. In its appeal to the DCO, PHR warned that preventing the exit of the vision-impaired patients for eye operations this week will necessarily cause them to lose the opportunity for cornea transplants in the near future, if ever, because the corneas designated for the transplants have a very short expiration date.

Despite this request, the Israeli authorities prevented the exit of the 17 patients for the operation on time. Five patients were not given any answer; two patients were summoned to investigations by the General Security Service (GSS), scheduled for dates later than the cornea expiration dates; two requests were rejected; and eight requests were approved only after media intervention, but after the corneas had already expired.

This case, with its far-reaching consequences for the vision-impaired patients who now lost the opportunity to repair their eyesight, illustrates the many difficulties that face the residents of Gaza who need medical care that is not available in the Gaza Strip. The delays, apathy and rejection by the Israeli authorities, which every month curtail the access of dozens of patients to medical care, had particularly severe significance in this case, because prevention of these patients’ exit from Gaza caused the loss of the corneas (which can be transplanted within no more than 48 hours from the moment of donation). Now the patients will have to wait for another cornea donation, at an unknown time and likelihood.

PHR-Israel strongly protested the blatant disregard of the Erez checkpoint authorities for the medical urgency of allowing the exit of patients for cornea transplant operations.

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