Red Cross criticizes PA workers disruption of health services
Expresses deep concern over West Bank strikes; Employees have been striking in protest of lack of regular salaries since March 2006.
By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH
The International Committee of the Red Cross has expressed "deep concern" about the disruption of health services available to West Bank Palestinians caused by a strike of unpaid Palestinian Authority Health Ministry employees.
The employees have been striking on and off to protest the lack of regular salaries since the international community cut direct funding to the PA in March 2006, when Hamas came to power. They resumed their labor action in mid-February and it has been affecting services offered by PA government hospitals and primary healthcare centers throughout the West Bank.
"Hospital admissions in government facilities have dropped to as low as 32 percent of what they were last year, and in some hospitals it's only 9% to 13%" said Eileen Daly, the Red Cross's health coordinator for the West Bank. "Primary health centers have been completely closed as of early May, thus restricting the availability of vaccinations and the distribution of medication to the chronically ill."
Daly said that although there were private and charitable institutions, "they cannot meet the demand and the poorer segments of the population are paying the heaviest price. With the general decline of the Palestinian economy, that portion of the population is increasing."
The strike first began in August of 2006, but was suspended in December when staff received two-thirds of their salaries for the previous two months. Since then, they have received a blanket allocation of roughly $400 per month.
"During the last strike, the population struggled to cope as best they could," said Daly, "This time, we can sense that people are approaching the breaking point."
Since the beginning of 2006, the International Committee of the Red Cross has repeatedly warned of a deterioration of the humanitarian situation in PA controlled areas. The decision by the international community to withhold funds from the PA, she said, has had detrimental effects on the provision of medical services that have been greatly compounded by the strike.
The PA Health Ministry is the largest provider of health services in the territories.
The longer the strike continues, said Daily, "the greater the likelihood of long-term health effects because of the drastic reduction in services such as vaccinations, medication for the chronically ill and preventive mother and child clinics."
The Red Cross has reacted by increasing its activities, but neither it nor any other humanitarian organization can replace the authorities in their role as provider of public services, she said. "Donations in kind and assistance to alternative institutions are not sufficient when the foundations of the health care system are threatened."
The Red Cross called on the strikers to ensure the provision of essential services in primary health care clinics and hospitals, and reminded doctors that they have a duty under the Hippocratic Oath to provide such services. It also appealed to the international community and Israel to find ways to ensure the availability of adequate health care services to the Palestinian population in the West Bank.
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