From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Episcopalians: Clinic at Gaza hospital provides vital program

Date 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 
unemployment rate.

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 
past month.

"Why, in Al Mawasi, do we always have to suffer?" she asked 
in Arabic. "We are asking for human rights people to come and 
help us."

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.

Environmental problems

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 
and bullets.

Hadba confirmed Dr. Yousef's account as she sat on her 
hospital bed.

"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 
and guns."

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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