In the last ten days, 21 children with oncological diseases were evacuated from the Gaza Strip to hospitals in Egypt and Jordan. At least another 30 who are fighting various forms of tumors or leukemia – i.e. diseases that can cost them their lives without treatment – do not yet have this opportunity.
The American newspaper The New York Times writes about it in its current issue, which mapped the desperate effort to evacuate pediatric oncology patients from the Gaza Strip. The transfers began in mid-October, coordinated by the White House, Egypt, Israel and Palestinian health authorities in Hamas-controlled Gaza, according to the NYT.
According to the sources of the American newspaper, which participated in the evacuations, however, they took place intermittently.
Because of the war, some families lost mobile signal and missed the specific days when their children were allowed to cross the border into Egypt. Still others waited hours for ambulances that never arrived at the meeting point. Another family managed to get to the Rafah border crossing, but only the name of the child was on the list of people who had permission to cross the border, aid workers and doctors familiar to the paper told the NYT, but promised not to reveal their identities.
About hospitals in the Gaza Strip
The first pediatric oncology patient was brought across the border on November 4. Another eight children two days later, followed by several other groups. By Tuesday, there were a total of 21 patients.
The remaining children, who range in age from a few months to 14 years old, have been given permission to leave, but given the violence on the streets, it is unclear when or if they will ever be able to leave.
One of the oncological patients is a seven-year-old girl who was diagnosed with acute leukemia at the very time the war began. There was no facility with suitable treatment for her in Gaza, but transportation could not be arranged. The girl’s health was rapidly deteriorating. In addition, the family was forced to flee to the southern part of the Strip due to the bombing.
When the evacuation of the girl was finally arranged, the humanitarian workers were again unable to contact the parents, the mobile signal was down. They were only able to find them after two days, they arranged a quick ambulance transport. But they ran into the border, no one was allowed to cross the border that day. The seriously ill girl arrived in Egypt only a few days ago.
“A large number of child patients are not so ‘lucky’ yet, they are trapped in the north of the Gaza Strip, and fighting is raging there,” a doctor who participated in the evacuation told the NYT.
Developments on the battlefield: How the situation changed from November 8 to 13
The only center closed
In the Gaza Strip, before the outbreak of fighting, only one ward was functioning for pediatric oncology patients within the Al-Rantisi Children’s Hospital. It was there that most of them were treated. Just two weeks ago, 35 children were hospitalized there with cancer. Patients began to dwindle after missiles hit the hospital’s water tanks and power system last week. Last Friday, the hospital closed completely due to intense shelling.
The director of the facility, Bakr Gaoud, described to the NYT that staff had to carry some patients out on their beds and wait with them for an ambulance. Before the children left, they received their last dose of chemotherapy. Israeli troops reportedly provided them with a map showing a safe route across the battlefield.
In the previous weeks, in addition to oncology patients, families of children also stayed in the hospital’s rooms, forming a tight-knit and supportive group. Now many fear they will be “scattered on the streets,” as Steve Sosebee, founder and president of the Palestine Children’s Fund, behind the establishment of the Al-Rantis cancer ward in 2019, told the US daily.
When the bombing began, he said, many families decided to rely on themselves. “Some families chose to leave despite having nowhere to go and no alternative medical care available to their child outside of the ward,” he described.
“Although pediatric oncology patients have experienced conflicts that have disrupted their treatment before, there have never been so many threats at once. Today, they face bombardment, dehydration and malnutrition,” said US-based pediatric oncologist Zeena Salman, who has worked with patients in Gaza for eight years. “In this case, there is much, much more at stake for these children. For those who are spared death from the bombing, delays in treatment put them at greater risk. There is a risk of sudden death or, if they survive, of not being able to cure their cancer,” she added.
The situation of pregnant women in Gaza
Hospitals do not even have the capacity to adequately care for the injured, let alone for pregnant women. About 50,000 of them live in the Gaza Strip, a large part of them are under stress, which can endanger their lives, even children. Menstruation can also be a big problem now.
We are a hospital!
Meanwhile, hospital staff in Gaza are trying to appeal to the international community to force Israel to take regular humanitarian breaks in the fighting.
“Never in my life would I have imagined that we as a cancer hospital would be under siege by rockets and phosphorus bombs everywhere… I swear I told myself that we have to get our message out and our voice out. To talk to the White House, to anyone,” said the report, which the NYT attributed to a nurse from Al-Rantisi. “Enough is enough, stop… We are a children’s hospital,” her message continued. “They don’t have any weapons or anything. They raise their hands and ask for help. They are children with cancer. It’s a disaster.”