Palestinian American medical delegation performs surgeries in Gaza

Doctors also brought medical supplies and trained local professionals during the visit.

PAMA’s surgical mission team performed 18 major surgeries and evaluated 100 patients, June 27, 2022, in the Gaza Strip. (photo credit: COURTESY/PALESTINIAN AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION)
PAMA’s surgical mission team performed 18 major surgeries and evaluated 100 patients, June 27, 2022, in the Gaza Strip.
(photo credit: COURTESY/PALESTINIAN AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION)

Thirteen physicians from the Palestinian American Medical Association (PAMA) arrived in the Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing on Sunday, determined to ameliorate the crisis of the devastated health sector in the besieged coastal enclave.

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PAMA was founded in 2013 by Palestinian health care professionals who practiced or are practicing in the United States, according to its website. The association fills an unmet need for an umbrella to embrace Palestinian and other health care professionals who care about Palestine.

Dr. Yousef Khelfa, a doctor of oncology/hematology and the president of PAMA, told The Media Line: “This is our fourth medical mission to Gaza that aims to study the needs of the Strip’s health sector, conduct complex surgeries, provide medical supplies, and exchange experiences with Gaza medical personnel.”

The association also provides medical scholarships, educational programs, and medical training for students and resident doctors. Yet its most significant activities are the programs that have a life-changing impact on those in the most need such as the Cochlear Implant Project, the Psychosocial Rehab Program for Children, and the Cornea Transplant Program.

The visiting team includes Palestinian Americans and consists of doctors from different specialties: oncology, neurosurgery, vascular surgery, hand surgery, plastic surgery, pediatric surgery, and urology surgery, Khelfa said. They conducted more than 25 operations per day.

Members of PAMA’s surgical mission team operate on a patient, June 27, 2022, in the Gaza Strip. (credit: COURTESY/PALESTINIAN AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION)Members of PAMA’s surgical mission team operate on a patient, June 27, 2022, in the Gaza Strip. (credit: COURTESY/PALESTINIAN AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION)

“The health sector in Gaza suffers from a severe shortage of 42% in essential drugs, 30% in medical consumables, and 60% in blood bank supplies.”

Ashraf al-Qedra, Gaza Health Ministry spokesperson

Gaza in dire need of medical supplies

After more than 15 years of Israeli-Egyptian blockade, the Strip is in dire need of such efforts considering the catastrophic health situation and the serious shortfall in medical equipment and supplies.

Ashraf al-Qedra, spokesperson for the Gaza Health Ministry, told The Media Line, “The health sector in Gaza suffers from a severe shortage of 42% in essential drugs, 30% in medical consumables, and 60% in blood bank supplies.”

He continued, “The Israeli occupation prevents 30-40% of patients from leaving Gaza to receive treatment,” despite “the lack of medical resources within the Strip.”

According to a report by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights published in April, “Due to the lack of important medical equipment, especially radiotherapy and medical nuclear scans, reliance on referring patients for treatment outside the Gaza Strip has increased, which means that patients enter a long referral process that requires a set of complex procedures, including booking an appointment in the hospital to which they are referred, and obtaining a permit from the Israeli occupation for crossing the Beit Hanoun ‘Erez’ crossing, which may take several weeks. And in many cases, the examination of the request is delayed without justification, or the requests of patients are rejected without reasons or for flimsy and illogical reasons that are not commensurate with the seriousness of the patient’s health condition.”

Qedra hailed PAMA’s efforts and all visiting medical delegations for their role in alleviating the plight of Gaza's people, saying that “by training our doctors and providing the necessary medical supplies, fewer patients will need to receive treatment outside Gaza, which will directly relieve the financial burden on them in these difficult times.”

These kinds of delegations face many obstacles.

“We encounter great difficulties in obtaining permits [from Israeli authorities] to bring in medical supplies and equipment to Gaza. For example, it took us a whole year to manage to get the X-ray machines into the Strip. We ordered interventional radiology equipment in January, and we still don’t know when it will arrive,” Qedra said.

Khelfa noted they couldn’t obtain permits for non-Palestinian doctors to join the delegation to Gaza.

The medical team is doing its utmost to conduct as many operations as possible before leaving Gaza on Thursday, Khelfa said.