May 9, 2023 – Palestinians continue to face serious obstacles to realizing their right to health.
Today, WHO published two reports, Right to Health 2019 to 2021 and Palestinian Voices 2022 to 2023. The reports outline how the fragmentation of the Palestinian people, the implementation of a permissive regime, physical barriers to movement and gaps in protection are causing health inequalities and creating significant barriers to health care provision and access to health care in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
“The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is a fundamental right of every human being,” said Dr. Richard Peppercorn, WHO Representative for the Occupied Palestinian Territory. “The Palestinian health system is suffering from the consequences of years of displacement, refugeeism and occupation. Public revenues, health spending and ultimately health services are affected by chronic shortages of health workers, equipment, drugs and supplies. Meanwhile, restrictions on movement, including Israel’s enforcement of a permit regime, impede access to health care.”
In the Gaza Strip from 2019 to 2021, only 55% of essential medicines were available in the Ministry of Health’s central pharmacy warehouse. The reports describe how COVID-19 has affected non-medical referrals, with a 51% drop in Gaza and an 8% drop in the West Bank from 2019 to 2020. Cancer care remains the biggest reason for referrals to providers outside the Palestinian Ministry of Health, led by from gaps in public health services.
In the context of the blockade and closure, 35% of permit applications from patients from the Gaza Strip were not approved in time to reach their hospital appointments from 2019 to 2021. Although approval rates were higher for the Western coast, between 2011 and 2021 there were 331,678 patient and companion permit applications rejected from the West Coast.
In 2023, a surge in violence in the West Bank exposed Palestinian patients, health workers, ambulances and facilities to increased attacks on health care. WHO reports show the longer-term trends, with 750 health attacks documented in the Occupied Palestinian Territory from 2019 to 2022. These attacks resulted in the death of a health worker and 568 injuries to health workers, affecting 315 ambulances and 160 health facilities.
“In 2022, we saw the highest number of Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces since 2005, often after excessive use of force,” said Ajit Sunghai, head of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR ) in the occupied Palestinian territory. “This trend only accelerated in 2023. OHCHR and WHO documented that Israeli forces frequently impeded access to medical care, including for first responders to reach people with life-threatening injuries. We are deeply concerned about the failure to provide protection against health attacks and the impact this has on Palestinian rights.
“We welcome these important reports from the WHO and the organization’s continued support and commitment to the Palestinians’ right to health,” commented Dr. May al-Kaila, Palestinian Minister of Health, in his opening remarks at the event. “The findings outline the significant challenges facing the Palestinian health system under occupation and highlight the need to strengthen support for the health sector by providing health resources and maintaining accountability for the right to health.”
WHO web page with reports and resources on the right to health: https://www.emro.who.int/opt/information-resources/right-to-health.html