By Dina Kraft http://JTA.com
Feb. 24, 2009. (Brian Hendler) JERUSALEM (JTA) — Pediatric oncologist Michael Weintraub of Hadassah Hospital recently found himself in the unenviable position of turning away ailing Palestinian children after the Palestinian Authority decided to halt payment for their treatment.
Originally citing anger over the war in Gaza and a desire to treat Palestinians in PA hospitals, the Palestinian Authority stopped funding treatment for the majority of Palestinians in Israeli hospitals as of Feb. 1, abruptly cutting off what in some cases is literally a lifeline.
“People could die in the next few weeks” if they do not receive proper treatment, said Weintraub, director of pediatric hematology, oncology and bone marrow transplantation at Hadassah. “Patients were denied coverage from one day to the next. If you stop cancer therapy for a month or two, the risk of relapse and death increases every day.”
For many years, a significant number of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza have come to Israeli hospitals for medical care, often for sophisticated tests or life-saving treatments not available at Palestinian hospitals, such as bone marrow transplants or robotic surgery.
The decision to drastically reduce the number of Palestinians entering Israel for treatment came from the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry for reasons that appear to be both economic — the expense of medical treatment is considerable for the Palestinian Authority — and political.
(HH here: so the PA saves two ways! They don’t have to pay for the medical care and when the people die they can blame Israel for “refusing” to treat the patients “because they are mere Palestinians”)
But P.A. Health Minister Fathi Abu Moghli said that despite the financial strain of paying for health care in Israel and other countries like Jordan and Egypt, the decision to reduce the overall number of patients was made as part of a new plan to improve the Palestinian health care system.
It was the Hamas regime in Gaza that first said it would not send its wounded to Israel for treatment in the wake of Israel’s operation in Gaza. That stance was then adopted by the Palestinian Authority, which is led by the more moderate Fatah faction, and was extended to include most Palestinians seeking care at Israeli hospitals.
Another apparent casualty of the new P.A. policy is the practice of sending Palestinian doctors to train at Israeli hospitals. Over the years, a strong professional network has developed between Palestinian and Israeli physicians because of the practice, helping ease the process of referrals. That could fall apart now.
“For 97 years we have talked about people with heart disease and cancer, not Arabs and Jews, and that is what we want to continue doing,” she said of Hadassah’s long-standing approach to medical treatment here. “It’s an unfolding story. The hospital will do what it can to continue providing services.”
Palestinians pay the same state-subsidized rates as do Israeli patients. For additional help, Hadassah has philanthropic funds that help cover some extra costs at their facilities, and the Peres Center for Peace has a program that refers some 1,000 Palestinian children to Israel each year for either consultations or surgery. In cases of cancer, the center has split hospital fees with the Palestinian Authority.
“It’s a very grave situation because people who are in the middle of receiving treatments that often do not exist in the West Bank and Gaza” will receive “a death sentence” if they lack treatment, he said.
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