4 February 2023
Marked on 4 February, World Cancer Day is an international day to raise awareness of cancer, stand in solidarity with and support cancer patients, and emphasize the importance of efforts made to prevent cancer, reduce mortality, and educate about early detection.
In the occupied Gaza Strip, World Cancer Day is observed amid extreme conditions faced by cancer patients, who face a myriad of obstacles in order to access essential life-saving medical care. Health authority statistics show that the incidence of cancer in the Gaza Strip has increased from 89 per 100,000 residents in 2016 to 91.3 in 2021. In 2021, 1,952 new cancer patients were diagnosed, and there were 610 cancer deaths. Breast cancer was the most common type of cancer (18.6% of all cases) and ranked first among female cancer patients (34.3% of all female cancer cases). Among men, colon cancer was the most common, accounting for 14.5% of all male cancer cases.
Israel’s 16-year settler colonial closure against Gaza and its associated draconian restrictions on freedom of movement have prevented Palestinian patients with serious illnesses from seeking urgent medical treatment outside Gaza. Dramatically, Al Mezan’s documentation shows that in 2022, nine patients including three children, died while waiting for or after being denied the necessary Israeli permits access to life-saving medical treatment outside Gaza. Moreover, the Israeli authorities ban on the entry of medical devices and equipment into the Gaza Strip further weakens the provision of health services in the Gaza Strip. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, Israel has been preventing the entry of diagnostic devices, such as interventional X-ray machines and mobile X-ray machines, as well as spare parts needed to repair outdated or damaged medical devices, since the beginning of 2022. In December 2022, the General Administration of Pharmacy at the Ministry of Health also reported that 207 drug items (40% of the essential medicine list) were at zero stock, including 23 out of 63 drug items essential for cancer and blood diseases, with six other items insufficient for one to three months.
These indicators show that too little is being done to localize health care for oncology patients. Despite being designated as a specialized center for treating cancerous tumors and being equipped to treat cancer patients, the Turkish Friendship Hospital in Gaza lacks essential services such as radiotherapy, PET scans, and chemotherapy.
The first, necessary step to improve conditions for Gaza cancer patients and for all the two million Palestinians living in the Strip is to urge Israel to immediately and unconditionally lift its closure and blockade of the Gaza Strip, which is the main obstacle to Palestinian patients access to medical care outside the Gaza Strip, and to allow the free entry of medical equipment and devices into Gaza.
Al Mezan also calls on the relevant Palestinian authorities to intensify their efforts to localize health services, develop Gaza’s health sector, rehabilitate health infrastructure, particularly in oncology departments, increase operational expenditures, provide adequate medicines and medical necessities for patients, especially cancer patients, and step-up efforts to provide all medical equipment and devices required for localization of health services.
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