“I had been tired for a while and had pains throughout my body. It was the 20th of August in 2009, and I was in my classroom, teaching my students when I suddenly felt close to collapse. I had pain everywhere, but especially in my upper legs. I went to the clinic located 100 meters away from the school where they gave me some medicine. The next day the same thing happened. Blood tests were done; they came back abnormal and I was referred to the hematology department of al Shifa Hospital. The following day I went to take the results and they told me I have chronic myeloid leukaemia.”
This is the story of a young father, called Akram Abu Sefan (33). Together with his wife, Mervat (26), and two children, Abdel Aziz (5) and Ahmad (3), he lives in Nuseirat refugee camp. Originally he is from Masmiye village, located in ’48 Palestine.
Akram’s great misfortune did not end with the diagnosis. As he sits in his living room, during one of the long electricity black-outs, he tells his story. “On 1 September 2009 my treatment was started. Since the beginning I have been prescribed a medicine called Gleevec. It is a tablet form of chemotherapy, meant to control my blood values. I haven’t received the medicines since 3 January 2012. I phone the hospital every day to check if there is Gleevec. And every day I get the same negative response,” he says. According to the central pharmacy in the Gaza Strip, 32 patients’ lives across the Strip depend on receiving Gleevec. [Update since publication: the condition of approximately 10 patients has deteriorated severely. Doctors fear for their lives.]
Gleevec is one of the medicines that are completely depleted in Gaza’s pharmacies. Many Palestinians in the Gaza Strip suffering from cancer or chronic illnesses, have been denied their basic right to life and healthcare over the years. They are struggling to receive medicines and medical treatment or elsewhere, many of them encountering obstacles in terms of availability, access, funding, and bureaucracy. And the crisis continues to worsen.
The depletion of substantive amounts of essential medicines in the Gaza Strip is caused by a combination of factors: the on-going illegal Israeli closure, the international boycott of the Hamas authorities, and the political rift between Fatah and Hamas.
The right to health is a basic human right that cannot be held hostage by occupation and internal politics. The abundance of political meetings and statements is in stark contrast to the lack basic care for people’s lives.
Akram’s doctor, unable to provide life saving treatment to his patients, can only give words. Akram says: “The doctor told me that if I maintain good spirit, that is good for my health. In spite of this he also says that it cannot prevent a relapse. There were pauses in the Gleevec supply before, but never longer than 2 to 3 weeks.”
As time passes Akram starts to feel more tired. “Tests showed that I have a low hemoglobine and a high white bloodcount. I go to the school but halfway through the day I start feeling tired.” Akram is an art teacher at the UNRWA Boys Preparatory School in Bureij refugee camp, a job for which he has passion: “I enjoy to work with the children, and like to explore and develop their talents.”
Akram shows an incredible strength en optimism in dealing with his situation. “Frankly, I feel okay mentally. Many things keep me going. Religion, faith in God, reading, and art. Also, I focus a lot on my spirituality, to have faith. I believe in destiny. I am not a dreamer but this is very important. My death is only a matter of time but we should not loose hope.”
He continues: “I keep hoping and think of the future a lot. I have children and think of what the future looks like for them. My wishes are not only for my family but for all families, for society. I have two messages. One is for the patients; don’t despair and don’t give up hope. My other message is for the people who are in control and responsible; they have to send the medicines to Gaza again.”
They have failed the Palestinian people miserably until now.