We All Have One Common Enemy: Disease

Many children from the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria are coming to hospitals in Israel to receive medical treatment for many different diseases: congenital disorders, heart disease or cancer. Medical transfers to Israel are coordinated quickly, sometimes within a few hours during the night. Health Coordinator Dalia Bassa speaks on behalf of COGAT: "When it comes to children, we don't think twice".

 

In the entrance of the children's emergency room at Dana-Dwek Children’s Hospital in Tel Aviv stands a mother with her tiny baby not even two years old, finally returning home to the Gaza Strip after receiving medical treatment for 6 months. About 7 months ago, they discovered cancer in the infant’s body and decided to transfer him to Israel. In the beginning, the baby arrived with his aunt to the hospital and later his mother joined them.

Dalia Bassa, COGAT's Health Coordinator, carried out all of the medical arrangements prior to his arrival. In an interview we held with her in the hospital, she said: "When it comes to children—we treat their cases differently. They need to be surrounded by those that love them. Our goal is to bring the children with their mothers."

Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) deals with all matters pertaining to entry permits to receive medical treatment in Israel and tries to grant long-term permits to stay in Israel, thereby preventing the need to keep reissuing them. The unit also coordinates the visitations between other relatives of the child in the hospital as much as possible. Currently at Dana-Dwek Children’s Hospital in Tel Aviv, a total of 8 Palestinian children are hospitalized: 3 from the Gaza Strip and 5 from Judea and Samaria.

 

Dalia Bassa speaks about her experiences: "A year and a half ago, we were informed of a child whose body was 100% covered in burns. We immediately transferred him to Israel in order for him to receive medical treatment. He was transferred [to this hospital] because only in Israeli hospitals could he receive the appropriate treatment. Work here happens around the clock. When they informed me about this incident, it was ten o'clock at night on a Friday. Soon after, I placed him in a military vehicle which took him directly to Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital."

When you are informed about a child who needs to be transferred from Judea and Samaria or the Gaza Strip to Israel, what steps must be taken?

"It is a multi-step process with many participating parties. The Palestinian Authority approves the transfer and then a complex coordination must be carried out between the hospital and the Palestinian Authority, from which we transfer the child to the hospital in Israel. In addition, you have to consider the child's family and make sure to look after the family members who accompany the patient. There are a lot of procedures and paperwork to take care of, but everything is performed very quickly."

Dalia Bassa adds that significant steps are being taken to develop medicine in the Palestinian Authority and to reduce dependence on Israel for complicated medical treatments. Palestinian physicians are coming to Israel to receive training and the desire to strengthen cooperation and guidance between the parties.

One of the fathers from the region of the Palestinian Authority, whose 3.5 year-old son was hospitalized in Dana-Dwek Children’s Hospital, told us that he had been with his son in the department for 7 months because of a cancer that they discovered in his stomach. The father, who is in the hospital 24/7, said: "Everyone here is kind and caring. The staff is excellent and there is no distinction between Israelis and Palestinians. The treatment is the same treatment and everyone is very interested in the child and cares for him."

Dr. Ibrahim abu-Zaira is a Palestinian pediatric cardiologist from Hebron who works at the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem. In his work, he treats Palestinian children, but what makes his work unique is that he owns a portable echocardiogram device which can diagnose children in an urgent manner from their homes: in Shechem (Nablus), Hebron and Ramallah. If he discovers that a surgery or catheter is required, he transports these children from regions of the Palestinian Authority to Hadassah hospital with the help of Dalia Bassa: “If there is a child with a heart defect and surgery is required, I immediately call Dalia and she takes care of the transportation arrangements. There is excellent coordination between all parties involved, and we carry out transportation without a problem.”

 

In the past, he faced several issues when he wanted to reach children within various areas of the Palestinian Authority. However, he says that a year ago he was given special permission to cross over with a car and check each child in any area he needs: “I once took a taxi, now I arrive much faster; I leave Hadassah with my own car. It is very good for the children—they benefit.”

Many Israeli hospitals treat Palestinian children which invest much effort into their medical treatment for rapid, safe, and quality care during intense treatments. The Civil Administration and the various coordination and liaison offices constantly work to assist the Palestinian population in their medical needs and to save lives,

“It’s an experience to take care of children no matter where they come from. It includes a lot of support from the surrounding environment. Additionally, we have a social worker specifically designated for Palestinian children that arrive here,” explains Dr. Ronit Alhassid, Director of Hemato-Oncology and Bone Marrow Department at Ichilov. “Not only do they have a life threatening disease, but they also move to a different environment separated from most of their family. Many times, the parent arrives after their transfer and stay for many months. We have a lot of compassion towards them. Our only enemy is cancer and we must offer rapid treatment. Many of the children learn Hebrew here, they connect and learn to not be afraid.” Alhassid added: “The staff here knows Arabic and the language does not create a barrier for us. When you decide within to be a doctor, there are no boundaries.”