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The Obama Administration should help war and
occupation’s victims receive humanitarian assistance, and they should
help the injured travel abroad for medical care. Moreover, the Obama
Administration should help all medical professionals who travel to war
torn areas, so they can care for the victims and train local doctors.
Recently, the Human Rights Program of the University of Chicago,
Amnesty, along with Students for Justice in Palestine hosted a panel
discussion of medical professionals who care for the victims of war and
The panel included: Dr. Ra-id Abdulla, a pediatric
cardiologist from Rush Hospital in Chicago, who led several missions to
Iraq and Palestine over ten years. As a volunteer, he screened hundreds
of children, many who had life-saving, cardiac surgery; and he
developed a formal, training program for Iraqi doctors in his
specialty. Dr. Scott Eggener, a urologist and assistant
professor at the University of Chicago, is an active member of IVUMed
(International Volunteers in Urology). He participated in volunteer
educational and surgical missions to Cuba, Honduras, Morocco, Myanmar,
Rwanda, and Palestine; Dr. Imran Qureshi, an interventional radiologist
at Rush-Copley Medical Center, was one of nine, American doctors who
traveled to Gaza after Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead;” and Steve
Sosebee, President & CEO of Palestine Children Relief Fund. For
nearly two decades his organization has sent over 800 children overseas
for surgery and medical care.
“I’ve seen the slow deterioration of Gaza over the past, 20
years,” Sosebee said. He explained that the purpose of creating the
PCRF was to address the humanitarian needs of kids living under
occupation and not having access to adequate health care. His full-time
staff identify kids who need surgery and medical treatment relief.
“We’ve identified 15 kids to send outside and we can’t get them out…we
can’t get Israel or Egypt to permit them outside,” he added.
In the recent invasion of Gaza, nearly 6,000 people were injured
and over 1,300 people killed, according to the Palestinian Ministry of
Health. Nearly 1,900 of the injured were children and out of the more
than 1,300 killed, 410 were children.
Sosebee explained that many children who experienced head and
neurological injuries live with permanent, brain injuries. Also,
children who lost their limbs and are in need of prosthetic limbs and
rehabilitative services are confined to wheelchairs now. With permanent
disabilities these children have no future because there are no
rehabilitative services to provide lifelong assistance for them in
“We’re trying to do something on a positive level,” Sosebee said.
“This is a human issue…we need to use energy in a positive way…surgery,
humanitarian aid is an appropriate response.”
Volunteer Medical Teams and Humanitarian Aid
Dr. Qureshi gave a visual and qualitative, slideshow presentation
of his recent visit to Gaza. He showed photos of destroyed civil and
residential buildings, including the rubble of the Catholic Relief
Services’ medical center. Overturned cement trucks and inoperable,
damaged ambulances only prolongs rebuilding the Gaza Strip.
On March 1st Human Rights Watch issued the press release: Israel/Gaza: Donors Should Press Israel to End Blockade.
They explained: “International donors to Gaza's reconstruction and
development should call on Israel to end its punishing blockade of the
territory and to allow needed humanitarian assistance and normal
commerce to resume.”
Their findings have been released one-day ahead of the high-level
conference for Gaza reconstruction, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. The
organization emphasizes that the number of humanitarian and commercial
truckloads needed to sustain the 1.5 M people living in Gaza are
in-park at the border crossings. Therefore, the number of trucks
allowed to cross over the border do not meet the peoples’ daily needs.
Last week the media reported the US would be donating US $900 M at
tomorrow‘s international donors conference, where US Secretary of State
Hillary Rodham Clinton is scheduled to speak.
Is it Enough? Gaza Stripped, Occupation Remains
Out of the 1.5 M refugees living in Gaza, an estimated 100,000 are
homeless. They live in a white sea of tents, with 25 people living in
each tent. After surviving the recent invasion, these people struggle
in cold weather. They do not have heat, electricity, running water, and
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency is supporting an
estimated 700,000 Palestinians living in Gaza. In their recent report,
“Quick-Response Plan to Restore Critical Services to Refugees in Gaza,”
UNRWA estimates their budget needs for January through September 2009
is an estimated $346 M.
Is it enough? Qureshi showed photos of the destroyed Palestinian
Ministry of Health and Agriculture buildings. As an interventional
radiologist, Quereshi’s medical specialties include: biopsies, fibroid
embolization, hepatobiliary intervention, as well as vascular and
interventional procedures. When he worked in Al-Shifa Hospital, the
largest hospital in Gaza, the hospital has a capacity of 80-100 beds.
Yet, there were over 400 patients in the hospital. He said the hospital
lacked medical equipment and sterile supplies.
“I used tape to tape up some of the equipment,” he said, showing
the slide of his repairs. Then he showed a slide of modernized, medical
equipment - in typical use throughout the US or Europe. The stark
contrast was obvious. Without financial, logistical and training aid,
Al-Shifa Hospital does not have the resources to modernize itself.
Originally, Al Amal Orphan Society had 250 orphans. Now they have
2000 new orphans, with few funds and supplies to handle the influx of
kids. A building that was under construction to be a new UN school will
house the orphanage. At present, it is a bare, cement floor with
pillars supporting the ceiling.
Training Local Doctors
Abdulla started going on medical missions to Iraq over ten years
ago. Although there are only 42 pediatric cardiology fellowship
programs in the US, he was not aware of any Arab country that had
formal training for their doctors. As a result, he brought a team of
Belgium cardiologists and physicians into Iraq. Together, they
developed a formal training program in Iraq, along with a pediatric
cardiac center. “I spent a lot of time and effort,” he added.
In 2003, the US invaded Iraq. Looters stole medical equipment from
the ICUs and set fire to the hospitals. He thought all of the efforts
he made over the years had gone to waste. Yet, the important training
he provided the Iraqi doctors came to life. They rebuilt their centers.
“That’s when I realized the importance of the small contribution I
was doing…it was the infrastructure we were able to leave behind, what
we were able to teach them,” Abdulla said.
Medical professionals of diverse backgrounds have demonstrated
that their volunteer surgery and medical initiatives are imperative for
the people on the receiving end of war and occupation. It is up to
individuals in the international community to continue making
contributions that aid people in their time of need.
Political leadership’s role is to help victims rehabilitate in every way possible so they can lead normal lives.
Our children - no matter who they are or where they are from - should not be left to fend for themselves.
Sonia Nettnin is a journalist who writes about social, political, economic, and cultural issues. Her focus is the Middle East.