From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Episcopalians: Clinic at Gaza hospital provides vital program
Tue, 10 Dec 2002 11:28:59 -0500
December 10, 2002
Episcopalians: Clinic at Gaza hospital provides vital program
by Nancy Dinsmore
(ENS) Sitting cross-legged on her bed in her white shawl and
black dress, a faint smile showing across her weathered face,
Hadba looked quite at home while recovering from uncontrolled
hypertension at the Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza.
It is rare, however, to find a patient who lives in her
troubled part of the region at any hospital these days. Hadba's
village near the Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom has no hospital
of its own, and nearby military checkpoints prevent villagers
from receiving health care in nearby communities.
Yet the Mobile Outreach Clinic, a new service offered at Ahli
Arab Hospital, a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem,
is helping villagers like Hadba receive desperately needed
medical treatment for the first time in months.
"Every time I see them here, I think, 'God bless them,'"
hospital director Suhaila Tarazi said as she watched clinic
patients line up for the buses that would take them back to
their home villages.
The monthly clinics, which started this fall, offer buses to
pick up patients outside their villages and take them to Ahli
Arab. Patients receive access to pediatric, dermatology,
gynecology, urology, cardiology, surgical and medical care. All
services are free, including laboratory tests, radiology exams
and medications. The clinic also provides patients with food
Each clinic attracts some 170 families or more than 500
people. The mobile outreach service aims to help people from the
villages of Al Mawasi, Um Al Dohair and Mogharakia and
surrounding areas, which suffer an estimated 95 percent
Prisoners in their villages
Villages served by the clinic are virtual islands surrounded
by Jewish settlements, military encampments, and Israeli
military checkpoints. These checkpoints prevent most residents
from travelling to nearby locales, such as Gaza City, for
medical care. Those people who do happen to make it through the
checkpoints are not allowed to take any metal objects with them.
Fatima, one of the patients at Wednesday's clinic, said
soldiers would not even allow her to take hair clips, coins or
clothes with zippers through the checkpoint. She said she was
separated from her husband and two of her three children because
soldiers would not allow her to return to her village during the
"Why, in Al Mawasi, do we always have to suffer?" she asked
in Arabic. "We are asking for human rights people to come and
Despite the difficult situation facing these villagers, most
are not refugees, so they do not have access to help from the
United Nations Relief and Works Agency and other refugee
assistance groups. As a result, they are virtual prisoners in
their own towns, with no access to food, supplies or medical
Ahli Arab Hospital cannot obtain the permits from the Israeli
military needed to bring doctors or medical supplies into these
villages, so residents must walk past local checkpoints, where a
bus waits for them. The majority of people who come are women
because soldiers will not allow boys older than 8 or men younger
than 45 through the checkpoints.
Medical care limited
Still, a handful of elderly men made the trek recently. One
man, Adel, said that a French humanitarian agency (Doctors
without Borders) tried to help his village, but Israeli soldiers
would not let them inside. He said he was thankful to have the
mobile clinic come to his village.
"We hope to see them more and more."
Patients sat in plastic chairs and conversed under an outside
canopy while waiting for hospital staff to call their numbers.
The mostly female crowd was dressed in varied attire, ranging
from black shawls that covered almost every part of the body to
mere dresses with head scarves. Meanwhile, children played near
the canopy or contentedly munched on sandwiches.
Doctors say the majority of pediatric patients they see are
malnourished. Al Mawasi, a village of 10,000 people, has no
hospitals and only one government primary health care clinic
with an extremely limited supply of medicine. Other villages
offer no medical care at all. Many families in these villages
are living on tomatoes if they happen to grow in the region.
Others simply starve when military curfews are fully enforced.
A doctor running the dermatology clinic said he has
encountered many "environmental problems," including fungal
infections, bacterial skin infections, eczema and scabies. Many
people have had their hair fall out because of nutritional
problems and stress reactions.
Meanwhile, a pediatrician said that many children have chest
infections, such as asthma, croup and colds. Several children
also have diarrhea linked with contaminated drinking water,
pinworms and other parasites.
Dr Yousef, who ran the medical clinic Wednesday, said he
mostly sees cases of diabetes, hypertension, stomach ulcers and
various infections, such as tonsillitis. Many of these may be
indirectly related to the stress of the regional violence, he
said. Many patients go to bed at night to the sounds of bombs
Hadba confirmed Dr. Yousef's account as she sat on her
"We ask that God would help us," she said in Arabic, pointing
to the sky. "But we are suffering not only in the night, but
also in the day.... Women and children are scared and stressed
all the time. They can't sleep because of the tanks, helicopters
The situation is difficult for hospital employees, too. Ahli
Arab social worker Mohammed Al Naqa looked weary after a
sleepless night of listening to Israeli forces bomb the area
surrounding his home. He also was hungry because Muslims like
himself fast during the day during their holy month of Ramadan.
International support crucial
Still, Al Naqa maintains optimism when talking about the
Mobile Outreach Clinic, which receives help from three volunteer
doctors. The clinic appeared to operate seamlessly, but that was
because of three prior days of preparation, he said.
The hospital must first send a women's committee into the
villages to advertise the clinic, determine resident needs and
find out how many people want to attend the clinic, Al Naqa
said. A few days later, the hospital will send a bus during the
wee hours of the morning to pick up patients, he said. The
25-kilometer bus ride to the hospital takes some three hours
because of delays at various military checkpoints.
Occasionally, doctors will find patients who needs special
hospital care, and they will schedule them for a follow-up
hospital visit. Such patients receive free medical treatment.
For example, the hospital offered to pay for surgery for Fatima
on Wednesday after discovering she would need hernia repair, and
Hadba received free treatment for her case of uncontrolled
hypertension and diabetes.
Such free medical care has taken its financial toll on the
hospital, which had a $400,000 deficit for the first six months
of this year. However, support from local charities has kept
Ahli Arab alive. Financial aid from groups such as the
Australia-based AngliCORD, Episcopal Relief and Development
(USA), the Church World Service, the United Church of Christ and
others have made the Mobile Outreach Clinic a reality.
Financial and political constraints make work difficult for
the hospital staff, but Tarazi said the work has its rewards,
too. She noted a woman who waved and asked for God's blessing on
the hospital as she left the clinic.
"After it's all done, and we have put a smile on the face of
somebody, it makes it all worth it."
[For photographs to accompany this article, see
--Nancy Dinsmore is an American nurse who is working as director
of development and communication for the Episcopal Diocese of
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