Access: Swift and regular treatment for eye conditions is vital if treatment is to be successful. Accessing medical care in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) is a complicated process as patients have to navigate numerous movement restrictions. Main obstacles include the Separation Wall, which cuts into the West Bank, hundreds of fixed and flying checkpoints and the permit system. Across the West Bank, 12% have limited access to essential health care, and 22% have no access to emergency care, according to the United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine (UNISPAL).
If Palestinians have West Bank residency, they have to apply for a permit to enter Jerusalem. A report by the World Health Organization found that one in five patients (and their companions) from the West Bank who applied for permits to enter Jerusalem to access hospitals were denied. Those needing healthcare, including the young and elderly who require family members to accompany them, often have to negotiate all of these factors just to receive a diagnosis. Even if they obtain a permit they may still be denied entry on the day, discouraging many from trying to reach medical care.
Poverty levels: The oPt’s physical and economic isolation, the frequent outbreaks of conflict and loss of land have led to high levels of poverty. Nearly 20% of the population live below the poverty line (UNRWA) and unemployment rates are high, with one in six people unable to find work (The World Bank). With high levels of poverty and unemployment, many patients do not seek out medical care, knowing they could not afford treatment if they did.
Eye conditions: In 2008, SJEHG undertook a study which found that the rate of blindness in the oPt was ten times higher than in the West. This is because of the region’s access issues, poverty rates and high levels of genetic eye diseases. Living in isolated areas leads to a rise in intrafamilial marriage, which in turn leads to increased levels of genetic eye diseases.
The economic burden of sight loss is significant. It has been shown that blindness causes poverty and that restoring sight improves the economic status of individuals and their whole families (Kuper, 2008). With no universal health care system in the oPt, for many Palestinians their only option is to seek charitable health care or go without.