6 critically-ill children among first to leave Gaza

Told by doctors that removing the tumour from Ahmed was not possible in Kamal Adwan Hospital because of the absence of medical kit and capacity. [Getty]

Israel is allowing six children to leave the besieged Gaza Strip to pursue treatment from cancer and other chronic illnesses, a rare occurrence since the closure of Rafah border crossing on 6 May. The children and their companions, who arrived at Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis from northern Gaza ahead of their departure, are to leave via Kerem Shalom border crossing.

Head of paediatric department at Nasser Medical Complex Dr Ahmed Al-Farra told The New Arab that the six children vary in conditions between cancer of the blood, brain, testicle, and a mass in the abdomen, in addition to a kidney disease syndrome suffering from severe dehydration. 

“The closure of the crossings is a death certificate to sick children in need of urgent treatment abroad, since the health system in Gaza is unable to offer them treatment,” Al-Farra told TNA, confirming that “civilians with medical conditions die every day because of their inability to access crucial treatment”. 

Gaza‘s only oncology hospital, the Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Hospital in north Gaza, has shut down since the early weeks of November because of fuel shortages, leaving roughly 10,000 cancer patients in Gaza without much-needed treatment. According to Gaza’s Health Minister, only 4,895 people were allowed to leave the strip since 7 October, out of roughly 25,000 critical medical cases, whether patients or wounded, in need of treatment abroad. 

In the corridor of the paediatric department at Nasser hospital, the frail body of six-year-old Juri Al-Areer speaks of its struggle with cancer and lack of proper nutrition. Her weak movements as she tries to play with her siblings and other children are frequently interrupted with winces of pain, shortness of breath and moans of agony. 

“Her latest chemotherapy dose was administered at Al-Ranitisi Hospital in the first week of the war, and her treatment from head cancer has completely stopped since then,” explained Juri’s mother Samira al-Saidi. “Her health has sharply declined, and it has been so painful watching it happen. She was 15 kilograms and dropped to eight. She’s supposed to eat healthy food, which we can’t get. On top of her fight with cancer, she’s experiencing displacement, malnutrition, fear and everything else we’re going through,” said the mother of three, in despair.

Detailing how Juri’s journey with cancer treatment began two years ago, Al-Saidi hoped their attempt to leave the strip for treatment this time will be fruitful, after previous attempts to leave via Rafah failed despite completing all the required procedures. “Repeated Israeli incursions, inability to coordinate for our transport from the north to the south and continuous displacement in search for safety, have foiled previous attempts,” she explained.

Seated on her mother’s lap, Juri weakly says, “I am very tired. I feel pain day and night. I want to travel to get treatment.” Waving her hand weakly, she softly added, “my little hands need to grow so I can eat and drink like everyone else.”

Nearby, 26-six-year-old Souad Al-Qanou holds her two sons, six-year-old Ahmed, who has a cancerous tumour in the testicle, and three-year-old Amjad, who suffers from an acute shortage of sodium and severe malnutrition, weighing no more than five kilograms.

“Doctors told us of their conditions two months into the war, along with the harsh reality that the conditions inside the hospitals in the north during the current war period were not qualified to perform any special operations on them or provide the necessary treatment,” said Al-Qanou, whose family was displaced from Jabalia to various areas in Gaza City many times.

Told by doctors that removing the tumour from Ahmed was not possible in Kamal Adwan Hospital because of the absence of medical kit and capacity, she immediately sought referrals for treatment outside Gaza. With Beit Hanoun crossing permanently closed, she sought exit via Rafah, and finally got approval to travel with the kids. “But the incursion in Rafah dashed all hopes for my kids’ recovery, until I got a call from the health authorities informing me that we’re among the first group that would leave via the Kerem Shalom crossing,” said a hopeful mother, who added that the kids will be treated in Egypt.

“All I want is for my kids to recover and for their pain to stop. I want them to be healthy, and have healthy food, since we were starved in the north. Travelling is my sons’ last option for life. I’ve had sleepless nights worried they can’t make it. I don’t care who I coordinate with, as long as they get the treatment they need,” she concluded. 

This piece is published in collaboration with Egab.

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