Courtesy of World Health Organization (WHO) in the occupied Palestinian territory
To enable everyone to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health and well-being, health care should be available, accessible, acceptable, and of high quality. Movement restrictions for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip mean that many patients face severe obstacles when they attempt to access health services. WHO is mandated to monitor and report on attacks on health and barriers to health access all over the world. In the occupied Palestinian territory, WHO is working with patients, health care providers, partners, and allies to campaign for change and access to health care for all.
Ameer and Tamer are part of a campaign that was launched in July 2021 and aims to support Palestinian patients and their families in telling their stories and advocating for access to the health care they need. After extensive support and pressure through social media in July, Ameer traveled to St John’s Eye Hospital in Jerusalem in August this year. While Ameer’s campaign led to him successfully receiving a permit, in September 2021, nearly half (46 percent) of patient permit applications from the Gaza Strip were not approved in time for them to reach their hospital appointments.i Tamer is still waiting to hear if his permit will be approved.
Patients, along with health and human rights organizations, are calling for an end to access restrictions. Join the campaign and support their voices.
Three-year-old Ameer is a refugee living in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. In August 2019, he was diagnosed with a cancer called retinoblastoma in his right eye. At the time, he underwent surgery outside the Gaza Strip to remove the tumor and received an ocular prosthesis – a custom-made ball that fits the socket to keep the shape of the eye. In January 2020, the cancer was found to have spread to Ameer’s left eye, and he had to have further surgery.
In March 2020, the prosthesis Ameer had for his left eye fell out. After failed attempts to put it back, doctors in the Gaza Strip provided a temporary solution with silicon – but this caused irritation and inflammation. In 2021, Ameer was referred to a clinic for eye prostheses at St. John’s Eye Hospital in East Jerusalem. From February to July, Ameer’s family submitted six applications to Israeli authorities for permits to exit the Gaza Strip. Five of these permit applications were not approved in time for the appointments, while the hospital had to cancel on one occasion.
During his initial treatment, Ameer had been referred to Egypt, but the difficult travel conditions, long hospital stays, and the costs of co-payments for care left his family facing heavy debts. Ameer’s mother explained: “We stayed two months in Egypt the first time and 40 days the second time and had to pay the costs of medical imaging, blood analysis, and other treatments. We also needed to rent an apartment during our time there. In total, we paid US$3,500. We took out loans to pay, but now we are swamped with large debts. My husband works at a small restaurant, where his salary is around US$10–15 per day, to feed our whole family. While in Egypt, I was taking care of Ameer, but I worried about my four other children back in Gaza. My other kids love Ameer, and they take care of him and protect him.”
After widespread support of Ameer’s campaign in July and August,ii he traveled in August to receive care.iii
Tamer is a 39-year-old photojournalist from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip who works for the Associated Press (AP). His sight has been deteriorating since he was diagnosed with a congenital eye condition in 2017. Tamer has required extensive treatments and investigations, not all available in the Gaza Strip.
Before May this year, Tamer had received permits from Israel to reach health care in Jordan and at Hadassah Ein Karim Hospital in Jerusalem. While in Jordan, he saw his mother for the first time in nearly 20 years. She is Palestinian and lives in Al-Lydd but has been unable to visit her family in Gaza because she has Israeli citizenship. Tamer explains, “At Hadassah, they told me I would need surgery for my right eye as well, but it would only be possible after my left eye improved. I was given smooth access to Hadassah up until May. After that, I lost four appointments. My last application for August 1 was not approved in time for my appointment.”
Tamer talked about how his illness and the uncertainty of accessing treatment have affected his health and his family life during these past years: “I want to go back to what I had before, even half the vision I had before. I’ve gained weight, and it hurts to stay at home and not be able to move like I used to. I’ll apply as many times as needed to get a permit to reach treatment. The AP [Associated Press] is trying and won’t stop until we get good news. I need this treatment; I can’t stay at home like this. I’ve had to bear this for three years now. My children are young, and my wife has supported me through all this. The kids see their father stay home rather than the active father they knew before – who was working, who took them out, who took them down to the beach. I’m not able to do any of those things with them now.”
As a photojournalist, Tamer also worries about his work and his future. “I’m so afraid of losing my sight,” he says. “If I lose that, I won’t be able to work, and my work is like the air I breathe. The wait is unbearable.”
Please share Tamer’s campaign video on social media,iv and join the call for access to health care for all.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is the United Nations’ specialized agency for international public health.
i “WHO in occupied Palestinian territory: Monthly report on health access,” WHO Regional Taskforce for the Mediterranean, available at http://www.emro.who.int/opt/information-resources/monthly-report-on-health-access.html.
ii Ameer’s campaign video is available on Twitter at https://twitter.com/lwdcampaign/status/1413564953227825163; and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WHOpse/videos/338194407976571).
iii A video of Ameer traveling to receive care is available on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LWDCampaign/status/1428056583850840065; and on Facebook at https://fb.watch/8TriEkXHFV/).
ivTamer’s campaign video is available on Twitter at https://twitter.com/WHOoPt/status/1452632701610176515?s=20; and on Facebook at https://fb.watch/8TrIO89f7k/).