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Medicine Shortage Threatens the Lives of Thalassemia Patients in the Gaza Strip

Ref: 01/2002           

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) and the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) express their deep concern over the lives of Gaza’s thalassemia “Mediterranean anemia” patients because they have not regularly received their medication for a year as it is unavailable at the Ministry of Health – Gaza (MOH) stocks. Furthermore, the medicines to expel excess iron from patients’ bodies is at 90% deficit. PCHR and PMRS are concerned that these patients will suffer severe complications that may lead to death if they do not receive their medication immediately and regularly. Therefore, PCHR and PMRS call upon MOH in Ramallah and Gaza to intervene immediately and dispatch the necessary medicine supplies to the Gaza Strip hospitals in order to save patients’ lives.

Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder in which the body makes an abnormal form of hemoglobin. Thalassemia patients constantly need blood transfusions and should regularly receive medications that expel extra iron deposited in the body to stay alive.

The number of thalassemia patients in the Gaza Strip is 309 persons, including 86 children and 223 adults: 170 male and 139 female. The patients are distributed across all the hospitals in the Gaza Strip: 156 adult patients in al-Shifa Hospital, 97 adult and child patients in the Gaza European Hospital, and 56 children in Al-Rantisi Specialized Pediatric hospital.

According to PCHR’s follow-up, thalassemia patients have suffered for a year from the acute shortage of medicines, so doctors are forced to give patients limited doses and over varying periods only if the medicines are available at the MOH’s stocks. Moreover, the medications needed to expel excess iron ran out of the MOH stocks and they were identified as follows:

  1. 53% Desferrioxamin – 500 mg, intravenously or subcutaneously administered.
  2. 100% Deferasirox – 500 mg, orally taken.
  3. 90% Deferasirox – 250 mg, orally taken.

A number of physicians who treat thalassemia patients told PCHR’s fieldworker that the lack of medications that expel excess iron has serious implications on the health of thalassemia patients, who need to have it on a regular basis to expel the extra iron deposited in the body due to the blood transfusions. Therefore, their inability to receive the necessary medication dose causes organ dysfunction of the heart, liver, pancreas and glands, leading to death.

PCHR and PMRS express their concern over the life of thalassemia patients in the Gaza Strip, and:

  • Calls upon MOH in Ramallah and Gaza to intervene immediately and dispatch the necessary medicine supplies to the Gaza Strip hospitals in order to save the life of patients.
  • Calls upon the Palestinian Authority to uphold its responsibility and supply the necessary medications and medical disposables in protection of the right to health;
  • Calls upon the international community to pressure Israel to lift the closure it imposed on the Gaza Strip and to allow all the import of all medicines and medical disposables; and facilitate the freedom of movement for patients and allow them to access medical treatment abroad
  • Calls upon the international community and humanitarian organizations to provide the necessary support to the health sector in the Gaza Strip, in order for it to fulfill their responsibility towards patients and provide the necessary services to protect their right to access medical treatment.

It is noteworthy that PCHR and PMRS work jointly on a project to promote, respect and fulfill the right to the highest attainable standard of health in the Gaza Strip.  The project is funded by the European Union (EU) and continues for 3 years and it aims to improve access to health care services, legal counseling and legal assistance for a number of Palestinian patients; to mainstream the international human rights and humanitarian law, particularly the right to health, by building the capacities of national and international NGOs working in the health sector; and to promote improved monitoring, documenting and reporting of violations of the right to health.