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One-day-only hospital permits harm cancer patients’ chances of recovery

"There is no medical logic in granting a one-time permit."

Jerusalem24– Gazan cancer patients are unable to obtain the permits necessary to receive adequate medical treatment outside the Gaza Strip, negatively impacting their emotional state and chances of recovery, according to Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI).

Israeli NGO PHRI issued a statement yesterday saying it had approached COGAT (the Unit for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, the branch of the Israeli government that handles permits for Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank to enter Israel or East Jerusalem) to demand an end to one-day-only permits for patients and the family members accompanying them.

PHRI said it has asked COGAT to revise the current policy so that permit durations reflect the length and nature of the medical treatment required.

Currently, patients from Gaza are forced to reapply for a new one-day permit every time they have an appointment for treatment or a follow-up session. Permit carriers are further restricted to the confines of the hospital grounds, making it difficult for patients to provide for their personal needs during hospitalization, as well as for those who accompany them.

“A lack of continuity in permits means that the schedule set by the hospitals is not met, leading to delays in diagnosis, treatment and follow-up, which in turn jeopardizes patients’ lives, harms the quality and efficacy of medical treatment, and constitutes a significant health hazard,” says PHRI.

“Contrary to doctors’ recommendations, Israel refuses to issue long-term permits to Gazan cancer patients or those with chronic conditions. Such permits would allow patients to regularly leave the Gaza Strip for medical treatment, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy.”

PHRI says the restrictions and difficulties in obtaining permits negatively impacts patients’ emotional state and chances of recovery.

“The accumulated cases that have reached PHRI indicate that Gazan patients suffering from a serious medical condition requiring […] frequent treatment – such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy – or regular follow-up, find themselves in an impossible situation.”

PHRI as an organization helps provide Palestinian patients with access to medical treatment. PHRI as well as other human rights and civil society organizations started working to help patients obtain permits and access treatment on time when the Palestinian Authority stopped coordinating with Israeli authorities on civil and security matters, including the issuance of permits, in protest at Israel’s proposal to annex the West Bank in May 2020.

From June to August 2020, PHRI processed 105 requests from cancer patients who needed travel permits, including applications for parental accompaniment in the cases of 32 minors. According to COGAT figures, only 60% left with a parent, while 40% either traveled alone or with another adult, who in some cases had no relation to the minors.

The organization says that through the cases they have handled, they have seen a trend in Gazan patients suffering from serious medical conditions and requiring prolonged treatment plans being unable to receive said treatment.

PHRI names examples of patients affected by this procedure, namely a 22-year-old woman whose permits are usually issued at the last minute, depriving her of the opportunity to get proper accompaniment. As a result, she often ends up missing treatment sessions, forcing her “to expose her immune system unnecessarily and endangering her health.”

Dr. Raya Leibowitz, Director of the Oncology Institute at Shamir Medical Center and a PHRI volunteer, submitted an opinion in which she stated, “Deviation from the treatment protocol impacts its efficacy and is inadvisable. Not receiving treatment on time can cause the disease to progress and the patient’s condition to deteriorate. There is no medical logic in granting a one-time permit.”

A further opinion written by Dr. Keren Levanon, an oncologist and PHRI volunteer, said long-term permits would provide patients “with peace of mind, stability, and the confidence that they will be able to obtain the chemotherapy treatments and follow-ups on time according to the pre-arranged schedule.”

The cancer mortality rate in Gaza and the West Bank stands at 102.2 per 100,000 population, while in Israel it stands at 89.9 per 100,000.

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