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Palestine Medical Sector in State of Emergency

Mustapha Barghouti is interviewed by Mas'ada Othman

Palestine Report Online , 31 July 2001
Posted at globalresearch.ca 29 August 2001

Mustapha Barghouti, head of the Palestinian Medical Relief Services, on the condition of the Palestinian health sector after eight months of Aqsa Intifada.

Palestine Report: What are the problems that the health sector is facing during the Aqsa Intifada?

Mustapha Barghouti: The biggest problem is the Israeli violence practiced against the Palestinians. The vast number of injuries in such a short period has put the medical sector in a state of emergency. Evidence of this is that in the past seven months .5 percent of the population have been injured or killed. This is a huge number given that the population of Palestine [West Bank and Gaza Strip] is 3.1 million.

The number of injured totals 15,000 and there are 450 martyrs. This is a very high number and puts the medical sector in a state of emergency because tremendous resources are needed to deal with this number of injuries.

Also, the ban on freedom [of movement] and the restrictions on medical and health teams, the closure of the territories and the transformation of the West Bank and Gaza into 64 separate sections has been a blow to the health sector. People are not able to reach hospitals, especially those in rural regions where 70 percent of the population lives. There have been a number of martyrs that died at the sand hill barricades set up by the occupation. Some people have died of heart attacks and others died during childbirth. There have also been children who passed away before being able to reach the hospital.

In addition, the medical teams that provide health care are not allowed to move freely. They can't always get to villages to provide services such as vaccinations and maternity care.

The siege imposed between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and between the West Bank and Jerusalem and between cities and villages has destroyed any possibility for a comprehensive system. This is done purposely by the Israelis, their goal being to paralyze health, educational, agricultural and economic services.

PR: Can you tell us a bit about the emergency plan that you formulated at the beginning of the Intifada?

MB: There is cooperation between private and government institutions and the Ministry of Health and United Nations Relief Works Agency in the field. Some institutions, such as the Medical Relief Services, made prior plans for emergencies.

Before the Intifada, we trained a first aid team of 11,500 paramedics. These people did an excellent job during the Intifada. They were sent to villages and checkpoints to administer first aid. These training courses are still going on; 5,700 paramedics have been graduated during the Intifada. We also set up mobile clinics. We set up seven mobile emergency rooms that focus on providing free health services in besieged, poor or remote areas.

PR: Is there a shortage in medicines?

MB: The problem is that we are not able to bring medicines into besieged areas.

There is also a shortage in some important medicines.

PR: What about the aid offered by Arab countries?

MB: The amount of aid is much too little in comparison with the needs. Most of the aid is presented to the Ministry of Health. Some is given to private health institutions and sometimes the aid is provided in a certain form - medicine, medical equipment or in the form of a project that is adopted by a certain party, such as the project for the rehabilitation of the disabled. We project that the number of disabled persons will reach 15,000 to 20,000 in the course of the Aqsa Intifada.

PR: At present, where are most of the injuries located on the body? Given that at the start of the Intifada, injuries were mostly in the upper body. Has there been a change?

MB: There really hasn't been any change in the pattern. The Israeli strikes are directed towards the upper parts of the body, aimed to kill. Ninety-nine percent of those killed were hit in the upper parts of the body and only one percent in the lower parts.

Seventy percent of those wounded were shot in the upper parts of the body while 30 percent were hit in the lower parts.

PR: What kind of weapons are being used in terms of their modernity and dangers?

First, there is the shelling with bombs. This turns a person hit into fragments, such as what happened with the martyr Naim Badran. Second there are 500 and 800-millimeter bullets. These are used in a very malicious way. They are what you call "soft-nosed." They enter the body and then explode into fragments without breaking the bone. The result of the explosion is that many internal organs are destroyed. They usually hit the intestines, the lungs and the liver. Then they use [rubber-coated metal] bullets, which are very dangerous if they hit the head. They are very heavy. Four hundred people have lost their sight because of them. If they enter the brain, they cannot be extracted because that would mean causing damage to the brain.

PR: Did you bring in specialized doctors to help you in dealing with injuries caused by these new weapons?

MB: Our medical qualifications are very high. Everyone agrees on the mastery of the Palestinian surgeon and the abilities of our ambulance teams. They have gained lots of experience and have overcome the mistakes and shortcomings that they faced during the first Intifada. Despite their skill, it is difficult for any surgeon in the world to handle the dangerous Israeli weapons that target the bodies of our children.

We did bring in doctors from Sweden, Germany and other countries. But European support now is much less than in the first Intifada.

PR: Are there any statistics on the losses incurred by the health sector?

MB: From the Medical Relief Services, 45 paramedics were wounded, from the Red Crescent, 70 employees were wounded and four doctors and nurses were killed. In addition, 57 ambulances were subjected to gunfire.

What about medicine from the Arab countries. Do the Israelis obstruct their entering the territories?

A large portion of this aid is being held in Jordan. Also much of the medicines have spoiled because of the high temperatures they have been exposed to. Some aid was held for over four months before being distributed in Jordan.

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