Thursday, January 28, 2021

Caught in the Middle: Patients held as hostages in a political crisis

By Marc Henry - September 17, 2018
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [US foreign policy] [aid] [Health Care] [Jerusalem]

It is not the first time, and it probably will not be the last; the East Jerusalem Hospital Network finds themselves in a financial crisis. However, this time is due to political tensions between the US administration and the Palestinian Authorities. 

The US administration last week announced that 25 million dollars earmarked for the care of Palestinians in East Jerusalem hospitals - consisting of six hospitals each with their own expertise - will be directed elsewhere as a part of a review of aid, leaving the six Jerusalem hospitals in a serious crisis.
The aid cut was just one of the latest in a number of actions by the Trump administration that have alienated the Palestinians and forcefully pressured a peace deal with Israel.
Augusta Victoria Hospital, one of six East Jerusalem hospitals, serving five million Palestinians and specialising in cancer treatment. Photo: Eli Lillis.
However, according to Osama Najar, Spokesperson for the Palestinian Ministry of Health, the Palestinians are not giving in.
“The East Jerusalem Hospitals are being used as a tool for blackmailing the PA and the Palestinian people into the peace deal, but the Palestinians refuse to be blackmailed,” Najar told Palestine Monitor.
Instead, the PA has vowed to fill the gap that the US administration has left behind.
“We will do all we can to compensate for the amount of money for the hospitals,” Najar said.
Critical situation
It is not the first time that the six East Jerusalem hospitals have faced financial problems.
“This is a political decision, but we cannot forget that there are humans in the middle. We have a humanitarian role, the patient have to get the treatment in the right time with dignity,” Badiah Bajjali. Photo: Eli Lillis.
According to the Assistant Chief Executive Officer at Augusta Victoria Hospital (AVH) Badiah Bajjali, the cash crisis is becoming an annual experience due to the PA being unable to pay its full bill for the six hospitals.
However, at AVH they are happy that the PA has announced to fill the gap left by the US administration cuts.
“Until now there is no real action, but we are looking forward to it and will go hand in hand with the PA to try and solve this problem,” Bajjali told Palestine Monitor.  
Augusta Victoria Hospital specialises in cancer and haematology, and is the sole provider in this area for the Palestinians. However, according to the Director of the Cancer Care Center at AVH Dr Yousef Hamamreh, the patients are already suffering from the interruption of funding.
“The interruptions means that the patients will only have the side effects and the toxicity of the treatment and not the benefits of the treatment,” Dr Hamamreh said.
“The cancer cell is such a clever cell. You should not play with it, you should not dance with it, you should kill it. Not giving treatment in time means you are playing with cancer.”
No other place to go
While the PA was quick to announce that they would finance the 25 million dollars donation, the staff at AVH are patiently waiting to see the money in the bank account.
Should the PA not be able to pay the money, it would be a significant blow to the treatment of Palestinian cancer patients.
“The worst scenario, if we don’t get the money from the PA to cover our costs, is that we are going decrease our services especially in chemotherapy treatment,” Bajjali said.  
“We pay the medication in cash, and we pay on a monthly basis two million dollars, so this medication is very expensive. We can’t afford to stay at the same level for a long period of time.”
At the same time, the Assistant Chief Executive Officer stressed that if the hospital was to decrease its services, it would result in patients being transferred to Israeli hospitals or abroad. A manoeuvre that would be more expensive than the treatment at the East Jerusalem hospital.
“We are the sole provider for the radiation therapy, and we are serving five million Palestinians. They have no other place to go,” Bajjali told Palestine Monitor.
The best treatment
The East Jerusalem Hospitals serves all five million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. In 2017 Augusta Victoria itself had not less than 10,836 inpatient admissions, 19,863 dialysis sessions, 21,434 chemotherapy sessions and 22,349 radiation sessions.
One of the patients that are benefitting from the expertise of the hospital is the 12-year-old Rasheed Bsharat, who has been suffering from acute lymphatic leukaemia for the last six months. According to the young Palestinian, the AVH is the best place for him.
“Here I get the best treatment, and this place is special for me. I get treatment from the best doctors,” Bsharat told Palestine Monitor while he was receiving chemotherapy.
12-year-old Rasheed Bsharat receives chemotherapy for acute lymphatic leukaemia. Photo: Elie Lillis.
While the 12-year-old patient had not heard much about the funding cuts, 53-year-old Naela Twaam was fully aware of it. Suffering from pelvic squamous cell carcinoma cancer, she is receiving therapy at the hospital every 21 days.
“The hospital needs the funding. Without the funding I can’t get the treatment that I need,” Twaam said, and added that she saw the hospital as her only option.
“If it was not for the hospital I would not go. I would not get the treatment. This hospital is something special. I feel comfortable here, and I wouldn’t feel the same other places.”
Hoping for a long-term solution
While the East Jerusalem hospitals find themselves held hostages in a political crisis between the US and the PA, Badiah Bajjali is sure that a solution will be found.
Once the PA pays the 25 million dollars, the problem will be solved for a short term.
However, the hospitals are looking for a long-term solution that will secure the treatment of the patients.
“This is not a one-man show. We have to work together with the PA and the local community to solve this problem. We need to work strategically to close these bills, not only for the East Jerusalem Hospitals but also for the PA hospitals,” Bajjali said.
And at the Ministry of Health spokesman Osama Najar assured that the PA is working hard on the solving the issue.
“We will do all we can to compensate for the amount of money for the hospitals,” he said, and added.
“I hope the European Union will support us with some money. They are already supporting the East Jerusalem Hospital network, but I hope they will increase their funding.”
Lead photo: Naela Twaam receives chemotherapy treatment for Pelvic squamous cell carcinoma cancer at Augusta Victoria Hospital. Photo: Eli Lillis.

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