February 15, 2002

Palestinian children with severe health problems receive free treatment at Israeli hospitals.I recently visited the Sheba Hospital in Tel Hashomer to meet with Dr. Yoram Neumann, deputy head of the Pediatric Hemato-Oncology Dept., whose department cares for children with cancer and related problems. As I entered the department I did so together with a whole group of young soldiers carrying fruit to celebrate Tu B’Shvat and carrying guitars and song sheets – this is how these youngsters choose to spend their precious free time – entertaining sick children.

In this unit a child is prepared for his bone marrow transplant that ultimately could give him 70 percent chance for a complete cure. Here were children whose faces were bloated by steroids given after the transplant – children without hair – yet still able to smile. Parents are around – day in and day out – sometimes there is a need for the children to be hospitalized for six months or more. There is a separate hospice unit – a beautiful building with picturesque gardens and waterfalls plus wooden animals on the grounds for the children to have fun with. This unique facility is not only for those who are dying, but also for pre- and post-bone-marrow transplant cases.

Omran is ten months old – apart from a discoloration of the skin (due to his transplant some eight months ago) he looked like a normal baby. Omran and his parents had come from their home in Kalkilliyah – under the Palestinian Authority. Omran was suffering from a severe genetic immune deficiency when he came to see Dr. Neumann at two months old. The first born of the family had died at seven months from the same illness. I spoke with the parents – they could not speak highly enough of the treatment their baby and they had received at the unit. As Palestinians they felt they had been treated with the same kindness and support as all the other families in the unit. Omran’s mother told me she was expecting a new baby in May and, thanks to a very special blood test carried out at the hospital, she knew the next baby would be fine.

Dr. Neumann explained that approximately 120 children pass through his department each year and 20 percent were from the Palestinian Authority’s West Bank and Gaza. Prior to the Oslo Accord all Palestinian children automatically received free treatment in Israeli hospitals. However, on receiving their autonomy the Palestinians were supposed to pay for their patients’ treatment, but in a large majority of cases they pay nothing. The cost to the Israeli health system of a bone-marrow transplant is $70,000, but no Palestinian child is refused care.

Continuing down the corridor we met Mohamed – he’s 15 and had been here for six months recovering from his transplant. Mohamed comes from Gaza. I spoke with Mohamed’s father who did not have enough words to express his appreciation of the care and treatment that had saved his son’s life.

Post-operative cases need daily treatment over an extended period, but it is not necessary for the children to remain in the hospital. Patients arrive from the West Bank and Gaza by special ambulance each morning at 8 a.m., receive their treatment, and at 12 noon board the ambulance for the return journey.

These operations and accompanying treatments are simply not available in the Palestinian Authority areas. Indeed, they are not even available in Jordan.

“There are of course special moments when parents, wanting to thank me and the department, arrive bearing homemade cakes and all kinds of goodies,” said Dr. Neumann. “One day a couple arrived with a different gift – a large fish! The father had been out fishing at 3 a.m. and caught the fish, after which the family started their journey to the hospital. However there was an extended delay at the border crossing and the family did not arrive at the hospital till mid-day – by which time the fish was not looking (nor smelling) so good!”

Tel Hashomer is but one hospital and there are many other Israeli hospitals serving the Palestinian population with the same dedication and devotion.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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