In December 2015 the approval rate for travel permits for Gazans to access medical care in the West Bank or East Jerusalem dropped to only 67.5% (WHO), its lowest level in seven years. Even if those seeking treatment obtain a permit, they may still be denied entry on the day.Those needing healthcare, including the young and elderly (and their companions), have to negotiate all of these factors just to receive a diagnosis. This system discourages many from seeking vital healthcare.
Gaza’s physical and economic isolation and the frequent outbreaks of conflict have led to high levels of poverty. Gaza has one of the highest levels of unemployment in the world, with 43% of the working population unable to find employment (World Bank). This contributes to 80% of Gazans relying on international aid to survive (UNOCHA). With high levels of poverty and unemployment, many patients do not seek out medical care, thinking they could not afford treatment if they did.
St John Gaza Hospital has been providing charitable eye care for the 1.8 million residents of Gaza since 1992. Every year SJEHG sees over 30,000 patients in Gaza, diagnosing debilitating eye conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma, corneal scarring and diabetic retinopathy. SJEHG charges subsidised prices for consultations and procedures for all and completely waives fees for those who cannot afford to make any contribution. In spite of the difficulties faced by our staff, our hospital operates with the same standards of care as any hospital anywhere in the world, conducting a busy outpatients department and performing day case surgery.
St John Gaza Hospital works alongside SJEHG’s hospital in Jerusalem. If patients require complex surgical intervention, we help them to negotiate the complicated system of travel permits to allow patients to access Jerusalem for treatment. The majority of our patients in Gaza have refugee status and SJEHG works with UNRWA to deliver health to these Gazans. As has been the case for many years, UNRWA is unable to contribute more than a small amount towards the treatment of the patients it refers to us. SJEHG continues to be reliant on charitable funds to cover the difference.
The demand for our sight saving services in Gaza is increasing every year. In 2008 our hospital saw just over 16,000 patients and performed no major operations. In 2015, we saw 30,500 outpatients (including 9,500 children) and performed 920 major operations. In response to this increased demand, we have built a new hospital (pictured above) which was opened in May 2016. This hospital has significantly increased our capacity to reach and treat more patients; and will mean we have a much greater impact on preventable blindness in Gaza.