Access to HealthcareThe West Bank is a region of Palestine but has been occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War in 1967. Due to this occupation, as well as the West Bank’s landlocked location, citizens often struggle to gain access to healthcare. Without sufficient medical resources, individuals living in the West Bank are subject to higher infant mortality rates, untreated psychological ailments and the risk for chronic disease to become acute. Despite these barriers, both physical and political, there are Israeli and Palestinian organizations working to aid people most at risk in the West Bank including women, children, elderly, disabled and the rural poor.

Five Obstacles in Access to Healthcare

  1. Mental Health Stigma: Mental health in occupied areas is an immediate and crucial concern, but it is often stigmatized by locals and, therefore, is unaddressed and unrecognized. Of the patients who manage to get access to a medical practitioner, adults will frequently complain of PTSD related symptoms like headaches, generalized weakness and palpitations. Children are also overlooked when it comes to mental health. According to the Palestine Medical Relief Society (PMRS), an NGO working to increase access to healthcare, 54.7 percent of children in a sample of 1,000 have experienced at least one instance of trauma. Despite the high rates of trauma in children, however, parents are often unaware and unable to recognize the signs of PTSD present in their children like nightmares, insomnia and bedwetting. Instead, they assume the symptoms are normal child behaviors.
  2. Infant Mortality Rates: Children are at a high risk of death when there is impaired access to medical services. World Bank data shows the infant mortality rate in the West Bank and Gaza is 18 per 1,000 live births and 21 per 1,000 live births for children under 5. Compared to Israel’s three and four live births per 1000 respectively, these are extremely high numbers and show the direct consequences of poor healthcare access.
  3. Limited Access to Essential Drugs: In an article about Palestine, the World Health Organization notes that for people low on the socio-economic scale, healthcare expenditures are one of the most financially burdensome household expenses. The unavailability or unaffordability of medicine enormously impacts patients dealing with a chronic disease like hypertension, asthma and diabetes.
  4. Long Ambulance Rides: Numerous military checkpoints and barriers physically obstruct the ability of ambulances to bring patients from the West Bank to hospitals in Israel. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, wait times at checkpoints can last up to 15 minutes. For a patient in critical condition, delays like these can hinder their ability to get the right medical treatment in time.
  5. Revoked Treatment in Israeli Hospitals: A recent declaration by the Palestinian Ministry of Health to cease funding in Israeli hospitals means that many patients, especially those in poor rural areas, are unable to gain access to healthcare. There are few other options available for these individuals to seek treatment, especially those living in poor areas that cannot incur travel costs.

NGOs Improving Access to Healthcare

Healthcare access on the West Bank is limited due to a number of interrelated reasons. In order to make it more accessible to those who are most affected, NGOs have been developed in both Palestine and Israel. In particular, the Palestine Medical Relief Society was founded in 1979 to aid the most vulnerable members of society. They have a mobile clinic program that includes a first-aid training program to help people gain access to healthcare in remote areas.

Another prominent NGO is Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). Founded in 1988 by Israeli physicians, this organization focuses on humanitarian aid and policy change. Furthermore, there are volunteer medics who provide free services to people with limited or no access. PHR serves more than 20,000 individuals each year.

Both of these organizations recognize the importance of addressing the fundamental issue through and data collection, policy and education, and they are working to improve access to healthcare on the West Bank.

– Tera Hofmann
Photo: Wiki

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) uses science and medicine to prevent severe human rights violations against individuals. The independent organization was founded in 1986 by a group of doctors, all who witnessed first hand the extent to which mass atrocities and extreme physical and mental harm were occurring around the world.

Among the founders is Dr. Jonathan Fine, who previously worked at the North End Neighborhood Health Center in Boston. Dr. Fine received a call in 1981 from a Harvard History Professor who asked if he knew a Spanish-speaking physician willing to fly to Chile as soon as possible. The individual was to lead a delegation seeking the release of 3 physicians who had disappeared by the brutal regime of General Augusto Pinochet. Dr. Fine found himself before a military judge in Valparaiso one week later. After an hour, Dr. Fine’s delegation was given permission to enter the prison and meet with the Chilean physicians. He described them as, “psychologically terrorized” and said, “…their testimonies were riveting, and so outraged me that within a few years I left my medical practice to do this work full time.”

Over the past 25 years, PHR has worked on a wide range of human rights issues in over 40 countries. Today, the organization focuses on torture, mass atrocities (including war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide), the use of rape as a weapon of war, and the persecution of health workers.

The philosophy behind Physicians for Human Rights is that health professionals, with their specialized skills, ethical responsibility, and credible voice, are in a powerful position to stop human rights violations. Local human rights organizations, governments, the United Nations, international courts, and regional groups such as the African Union and European Union seek out the work and expertise of PHR.

There are three steps PHR takes to gather the necessary information for prevention and change. First, medical and scientific investigations are conducted using forensic science, medical and psychological examinations, and epidemiological research. Next, the evidence and human stories of the investigation are documented as reports, court-admissible evidence, testimony for governmental bodies, and various other forms for targeted audiences. Finally, the human rights experts of PHR meet with key representatives from governments, courts, or international groups to push for interventions, the prosecution of individuals, the drafting of legislation, and other calls to action. The following is work the organization has done:

  • 1986 – Led investigations of torture in Chile, freeing heroic doctors
  • 1988 – First to document the Iraqi use of chemical weapons on Kurds providing evidence for the prosecution of war criminals
  • 1996 – Exhumed mass graves in the Balkans and Rwanda to provide evidence for International Criminal Tribunals
  • 1997 – Won the Nobel Peace Prize in conjunction with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines
  • 2003 – Warned U.S. Policymakers about health and human rights conditions prior to and during the invasion of Iraq
  • 2004 – Documented genocide and sexual violence in Darfur in support of international prosecutions
  • 2010 – Investigated the epidemic of violence spread by Burma’s military junta
  • 2011 – Championed the principle of noninterference with medical services in times of armed conflict and civil unrest during the Arab Spring
  • 2012 – Trained doctors, lawyers, police, and judges in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, and Syria on the proper methods for collecting evidence in sexual violence cases
  • 2013 – Won first prize in the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention with MediCapt, the mobile app that documents evidence of torture and sexual violence

– Ali Warlich

Source: PHR Charity Navigator
Photo: Arabian Business