Israeli, Palestinian Paediatricians Partner to Treat Palestinian Children

by Lauren Gelfond Feldinger
24 September 2004
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Scores of Palestinian children with serious medical conditions have long
gone untreated because of lack of access to and lack of affordability of
proper medical care.

But thanks to a new partnership of Palestinian and Israeli paediatricians,
under auspices of Israel's Peres Peace Centre, hundreds of Palestinian
children have been seen for free by Israeli doctors in the last four
months. With funding from Italy, nearly 200 of 580 children that were
referred have already undergone major surgery at Israeli hospitals at no
cost to the families. Another 350-400 children have undergone free
diagnostic testing.

Four Israeli hospitals have signed on to the 'Saving Children' program:
Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem, Tel Hashomer Hospital in Tel
Aviv, Ramban Hospital in Haifa and the Jerusalem orthopaedic hospital Alyn.

Many other Israeli hospitals were turned away, as the Peres Centre decided
that only those that agree to subsidize medical costs will be allowed to
receive patients through their network. This will insure that Israel, and
not only Italy, will be contributing financially to the program. The four
partnering hospitals are discounting treatments up to fifty percent, which
helps maximize the number of patients that can be helped.

Several dozen Palestinian paediatricians and sub-specialists from West Bank
and Gaza also signed-on to form a working committee to screen Palestinian
infants and children and determine who will get referrals. Only
Palestinians - from newborns to age 15 - that have serious conditions which
can not under any circumstances be treated by Palestinian doctors are able
to get through. Doctors from both sides work together to determine who will
be treated and where.

Palestinians hospitals have never neared the standards of those in
neighbouring Israel and Jordan, where Palestinians often must turn for
treatment. Children under 15, who make up some fifty percent of the
Palestinian population, or 1.7 million, according to doctors, have been
hardest hit by the economic and political turmoil and the inability of the
Palestinian medical infrastructure to develop in such an environment. But
even middle-class Palestinian families with two working parents would not
be able to afford treatments for their children in foreign hospitals,
doctors say.

"This program is a program of hope -- a collaboration of Palestinian and
Israeli doctors and others who still have humanistic views," Prof. Anwar
Dudin, a paediatrician at al-Yamama hospital in Bethlehem, who is
overseeing the Palestinian side of the project, told ISRAEL21c.

The idea for the medical partnership was set in motion when an Italian
journalist reported on a child from Bethlehem with cancer. At the time the
boy was left untreated as Palestinian facilities do not have the kind of
care he needed and Israeli cancer treatments can be prohibitively expensive
for those without health insurance.

An overwhelming response from the Italian public led Italian officials to
contact Israeli doctors. In July of 2003, several Italian public officials
from the Tuscany region flew into Israel for two days of meetings with
colleagues, to investigate the situation on the ground.

Israeli doctors were surprised to learn that Italy had in the past funded
Palestinian children and their families for trips to Italy for medical
treatment.

"We told them it would make more sense and cost less to do the program here
[in Israel]," Dr. Dan Shanit, medical director of the Peres Centre, who is
overseeing the program from the Israeli side, told ISRAEL21c.

"We have the same medical standards as Italy, if not more, and if we do it
here there will be gains. It will contribute to reconciliation and it will
be easier for [Palestinian] parents to come and visit their young children
after surgery and for follow-up visits."

Initially the Italian officials considered subsidizing $150,000 a year to
underwrite medical costs, but after the visit, they decided instead to
offer $1.2 million over three years, as a gift from the region of Tuscany.

But after the Palestinian referral service was up and running in November
of 2003, and after patients started to be seen four months ago, other
donors joined and the budget has been raised to $1.5 million.

Another region of Italy, not yet named, may underwrite a program just for
treating cancer patients. The high cost of such severe disorders as cancer
is a major problem facing the program.

The most common condition among the patients is congenital heart disease.
It is especially prevalent in Palestinian areas, doctors say, because women
do not undergo sufficient prenatal screenings and abortion of fetuses with
severe malformations are not performed. The most serious cause, explains
Dudin, is the high rate of marriage between Palestinian relatives,
including first cousins. There are also marriages between cousins in
Israel, but at a significantly lower rate.

Though five to six thousand Palestinians annually are born with a major
cardiac deformity, there is cause for hope, Shanit said. "The wonderful
thing is that you stand a very good chance that if you treat them early
enough they'll have a very normal life."

Other common conditions requiring surgery include severe burns, orthopaedic
malformations, neurological problems, and occasional gunshot wounds to the
skull or brain.

The team coordinates who gets operated on where and Peres tries to arrange
travel permits. Some Palestinian children who may have been considered for
treatment have not been able to travel, under Israeli security
restrictions, especially those from Gaza. The participating doctors are
also limited and frustrated by travel restrictions, says Dudin.

But the cooperation between doctors and between doctors and patients
themselves has been excellent, doctors on both sides report.

"We have had an incredible response from families who say they 'never
experienced Israelis to be like they are'," said Shanit. "Some had never
seen an Israeli except a soldier at a checkpoint. It gives a different
image of Israel."

Both Palestinian and Israeli doctors have also agreed not to involve
governments.

"It was suggested to be a cooperation of professionals rather than get the
Palestinian Authority involved," said Shanit. "Normally the PA would be a
partner, but we have not always had good experiences with such cooperation.
We were worried that political involvement would affect the project."

"We don't need the endorsement of the PA," agreed Dudin. "Parents who have
sick children seek help from any side. This justifies the need."

For their work, Dudin and Shanit are scheduled to receive an international
peace prize from the Italian association, il Centro Studi Guiseppe Donati.

"This is not a collaboration of Palestinians and Israelis but of minorities
on both sides," said Dudin. "Our objective is to save children and do our
job as paediatricians. The Israelis who collaborate with us think the
stupid situation can't continue like this. And they also do it for their
own future."

"What's in mind is human," he added. "We are a living cry against
segregation and racism."


###

Source: Israel21c, September 12, 2004

Visit the Israel21c website
http://www.israel21c.org/bin/en.jsp?enPage=HomePage

Distributed by the Common Ground News Service.

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