The Obama administration should help the victims of war and
occupation receive humanitarian assistance, and they should help the injured
travel abroad for medical care. Moreover, the Obama administration should help
all medical professionals who travel to war torn areas, so they can care for
the victims and train local doctors.
Recently, the Human Rights Program of the University of
Chicago, Amnesty, along with Students for Justice in Palestine, hosted a panel
discussion of medical professionals who care for the victims of war and
The panel included Dr. Ra-id Abdulla, a pediatric
cardiologist from Rush Hospital in Chicago, who led several missions to Iraq
and Palestine over 10 years. As a volunteer, he screened hundreds of children,
many who had life-saving cardiac surgery; and he developed a formal, training
program for Iraqi doctors in his specialty. Dr. Scott Eggener, a
urologist and assistant professor at the University of Chicago, is an active
member of IVUMed (International Volunteers in Urology). He participated in
volunteer educational and surgical missions to Cuba, Honduras, Morocco,
Myanmar, Rwanda, and Palestine; Dr. Imran Qureshi, an interventional
radiologist at Rush-Copley Medical Center, was one of nine American doctors who
traveled to Gaza after Israel�s �Operation Cast Lead�; and Steve Sosebee,
president and CEO of Palestine Children Relief Fund. For nearly two decades his
organization has sent over 800 children overseas for surgery and medical care.
�I�ve seen the slow deterioration of Gaza over the past, 20
years,� Sosebee said. He explained that the purpose of creating the PCRF was to
address the humanitarian needs of kids living under occupation and not having
access to adequate health care. His full-time staff identify kids who need
surgery and medical treatment. �We�ve identified 15 kids to send outside and we
can�t get them out . . . we can�t get Israel or Egypt to permit them outside,�
In the recent invasion of Gaza, nearly 6,000 people were
injured and over 1,300 people killed, according to the Palestinian Ministry of
Health. Nearly 1,900 of the injured were children and out of the more than
1,300 killed, 410 were children.
Sosebee explained that many children who experienced head
and neurological injuries live with permanent brain injuries. Also, children
who lost their limbs and are in need of prosthetic limbs and rehabilitative
services are confined to wheelchairs now. With permanent disabilities, these
children have no future because there are no rehabilitative services to provide
lifelong assistance for them in Gaza.
�We�re trying to do something on a positive level,� Sosebee
said. �This is a human issue . . . we need to use energy in a positive way . .
. surgery, humanitarian aid is an appropriate response.�
Volunteer medical teams and humanitarian aid
Dr. Qureshi gave a visual and qualitative slideshow
presentation of his recent visit to Gaza. He showed photos of destroyed civil
and residential buildings, including the rubble of the Catholic Relief
Services� medical center. Overturned cement trucks and inoperable, damaged
ambulances only prolong rebuilding the Gaza Strip.
On March 1, Human Rights Watch issued a press release, Israel/Gaza:
Donors Should Press Israel to End Blockade. They explained: �International
donors to Gaza�s reconstruction and development should call on Israel to end
its punishing blockade of the territory and to allow needed humanitarian
assistance and normal commerce to resume.�
Their findings were released one day ahead of the high-level
conference for Gaza reconstruction, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. The organization
emphasizes that the number of humanitarian and commercial truckloads needed to
sustain the 1.5 M people living in Gaza are in-park at the border crossings.
Therefore, the number of trucks allowed to cross over the border do not meet
the people�s daily needs.
Last week, the media reported the US would be donating US
$900M at yesterday�s international donors conference, where US Secretary of
State Hillary Rodham Clinton was scheduled to speak.
Is it enough? Gaza stripped, occupation remains
Out of the 1.5 M refugees living in Gaza, an estimated
100,000 are homeless. They live in a white sea of tents, with 25 people living
in each tent. After surviving the recent invasion, these people struggle in
cold weather. They do not have heat, electricity, running water, and few
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency is supporting an
estimated 700,000 Palestinians living in Gaza. In their recent report,
�Quick-Response Plan to Restore Critical Services to Refugees in Gaza,� UNRWA
estimates their budget needs for January through September 2009 is an estimated
Is it enough? Qureshi showed photos of the destroyed
Palestinian Ministry of Health and Agriculture buildings. As an interventional
radiologist, Quereshi�s medical specialties include: biopsies, fibroid
embolization, hepatobiliary intervention, as well as vascular and
interventional procedures. When he worked in Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest
hospital in Gaza, the hospital had a capacity of 80-100 beds. Yet, there were
over 400 patients in the hospital. He said the hospital lacked medical
equipment and sterile supplies.
�I used tape to tape up some of the equipment,� he said,
showing the slide of his repairs. Then he showed a slide of modernized, medical
equipment -- in typical use throughout the US or Europe. The stark contrast was
obvious. Without financial, logistical and training aid, Al-Shifa Hospital does
not have the resources to modernize itself.
Originally, Al Amal Orphan Society had 250 orphans. Now they
have 2000 new orphans, with few funds and supplies to handle the influx of
kids. A building that was under construction to be a new UN school will house
the orphanage. At present, it is a bare cement floor with pillars supporting
Training local doctors
Abdulla started going on medical missions to Iraq over 10 years
ago. Although there are only 42 pediatric cardiology fellowship programs in the
US, he was not aware of any Arab country that had formal training for their
doctors. As a result, he brought a team of Belgium cardiologists and physicians
into Iraq. Together, they developed a formal training program in Iraq, along
with a pediatric cardiac center. �I spent a lot of time and effort,� he said.
In 2003, the US invaded Iraq. Looters stole medical
equipment from the ICUs and set fire to the hospitals. He thought all of the
efforts he made over the years had gone to waste. Yet, the important training
he provided the Iraqi doctors came to life. They rebuilt their centers.
�That�s when I realized the importance of the small
contribution I was doing . . . it was the infrastructure we were able to leave
behind, what we were able to teach them,� Abdulla said.
Medical professionals of diverse backgrounds have
demonstrated that their volunteer surgery and medical initiatives are
imperative for the people on the receiving end of war and occupation. It is up
to individuals in the international community to continue making contributions
that aid people in their time of need.
Political leadership�s role is to help victims rehabilitate
in every way possible so they can lead normal lives.
Our children -- no matter who they are or where they are
from -- should not be left to fend for themselves.
Sonia Nettnin is a journalist who
writes about social, political, economic, and cultural issues. Her focus is the