NEARLY 400 children in Gaza – or at least two a day – were denied access to critical healthcare in the West Bank in the first six months of 2023, leaving them without access to life-saving surgery or urgent medication, says Save the Children.

Nearly 100 children’s applications to Israeli authorities were denied or left unanswered in the month of May alone, when hostilities escalated between Israel and armed groups in Gaza, leaving 33 Palestinians, including at least seven children, and two people in Israel dead.

According to the Ministry of Health in Gaza,  hundreds of patients and their caregivers were unable to reach vital medical care in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, or in Israel, during the escalation of hostilities between 9 and 13 May 2023,

Last year, three children died while their applications for Gaza exit-permits were either denied or remained under review, including a 19-month-old child with a congenital heart defect and a 16-year-old child with leukaemia.

Neither chemotherapy nor radiology treatments are available due to Israeli Government restrictions on medical equipment and medication entering Gaza.

Zeinab*, nine years old, underwent surgery three times in Gaza between the age of one and three to treat nerve damage in her leg, a condition she has from birth. All three surgeries were unsuccessful, and her family has tried for over a year to get a permit for her and a caregiver to travel for treatment outside Gaza.

“I felt very bad when my application was denied. It was during Eid, I really wanted to go and play with my friends. I wish I could run and wear trousers”, she said. “The device they fit on my leg hurts when I walk, when I go to school. I hope I can have it removed. I am a child, and I wish to be treated like other children.”

Her grandmother Maryam* said: “I often find Zeinab crying, she tells me she’s in pain, that she wishes she could have this device removed and play and dress up. Why doesn’t she have a right to medical treatment like any other girl?”

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), treatment and diagnostic services for cancer comprised the single largest reason for patient permit requests to exit the Gaza Strip for 2019 to 2021.

During the same period, 32 per cent of children with approved permits to travel for healthcare from the Gaza Strip did not have a parent approved to accompany them, resulting in them travelling with a different relative or not going at all.

Gaza’s health system remains on the brink of collapse after 16 years of blockade. Along with recurrent escalations of violence, this poses a constant threat to children’s lives in Gaza. The restrictions imposed under the blockade contribute to increasing poverty rates and health supplement shortages in the local markets.

According to a recent Save the Children survey, malnutrition is common among families living in ‘access restricted areas’ that are close to the Israeli fence and witness frequent attacks. They often suffer from poor public infrastructure and a history of waterborne diseases and solid waste pollution. Ten per cent of families surveyed by Save the Children reported losing a child due to a preventable cause before the age of five.

The May 2023 escalation highlighted the urgent need for humanitarian assistance in the occupied Palestinian territory. Two thirds of the way through the year, only a third of the $502 million required in the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan has been funded.

Jason Lee, Save the Children’s Country Director in the occupied Palestinian territory said: “Despite approval rates for medical permits increasing this year, there is still an average of 60 children every month who need medical treatment outside Gaza and whose applications are rejected or left unanswered. Some are desperately sick children who have no options other than leaving Gaza to survive.

“Denying children healthcare is inhumane and an infringement of their rights, and separating children from their parents during treatment can make it even harder for those children to cope. The 16-year blockade is impacting every aspect of children’s lives, including their physical and mental health. Our research in 2022 showed that four out of five children in the Gaza Strip live with depression, grief and fear. Their reality is so far removed from the things we associate with childhood. This systemic violence and deprivation has to stop.”

Save the Children is calling on the UK to make clear to the Government of Israel in the strongest possible terms that access to healthcare is a fundamental right of all children and that it has a responsibility to ensure unhindered access to medical treatment for Gaza’s children.

As per the legal obligations of an occupying power, the Government of Israel should take every step possible to protect Gaza patients, promote unhindered access to essential healthcare, and uphold the right to health and healthcare for Gaza’s children and their families.

The right of the child to health is enshrined in article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that children have the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health and access to health care services.

* Names have been changed.

* Source: Save the Children