Ameer, a three year old Palestinian boy in Gaza, is the human face of who is getting hurt by the perfect storm of pandemic, politics and a healthcare system in crisis in Palestine argues CTIP guest columnist Catherine Casserly. She compares his prognosis with that of her former husband who suffered a similar ailment but was treated in Canada. Read more….
Guest columnist Catherine Casserly is a retired federal public servant who has worked on many social justice issues including human and religious rights, refugee re-settlement, and justice circles. She has been awarded the Sovereign’s Award for Volunteers for her work at the national and community level
In August 2019, Ameer was diagnosed with a cancer in his right eye called a retinoblastoma. He had surgery in Egypt which removed the cancer, and then received an ocular prosthesis – a custom-made ball that fits the socket to keep the shape of the eye. His sad story was recently shared by the World Health Organization.
Unfortunately, by January 2020, the cancer had spread to Ameer’s left eye, and he had further surgery. In March 2020, the prosthesis for his left eye came out. In 2021, Ameer was referred to a clinic for eye prosthesis at St. John’s Eye Hospital in East Jerusalem. His family has neither funds nor income to pay for his surgery. St. John’s is the only charitable provider of expert eye care in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. It treats patients regardless of ethnicity, religion, or ability to pay. But Ameer needs Israeli permission for him to go to Jerusalem.
Since February of this year, Ameer’s family has made more than five applications to Israeli authorities for permits to exit Gaza so he could be treated at this specialist facility. Four of those permit applications were not approved in time for the appointments, and one was cancelled because the hospital cancelled the appointment. Then Ameer had an appointment for May 16, during the escalation of violence and aerial bombardment of Gaza. He missed that one too.
“My children were really scared during the attacks,” said Ameer’s mother in the WHO report. “I was scared too, but I couldn’t cry in front of them. In those times I told myself it was good we didn’t get a permit to leave. Imagine if I had been in the hospital in Jerusalem with my kids here under the airstrikes. It was a blessing that we were all together during those difficult days.”
Ameer’s story moved me so much because of my own experience. When my (late) husband was the same age, he faced the same situation. The big difference was that it was the late 1940’s in Ottawa. At the time, this diagnosis was thought to be a sentence of death. Instead, the specialists had no problem removing the eye and fitting it with a prothesis. As he grew, the prothesis was changed many times. It was just part of his growing up, graduating from university, and becoming a successful businessperson. That surgery took place more than 7 decades ago and since then most of the medical world has taken enormous steps forward, especially in cancer care. Or at least one would think so.
In 2021, Ameer’s family desperately wants him to receive care within Palestine. Ameer’s next appointment for a prosthesis fitting was to be on July 11. His family is still waiting to hear if the Israeli authorities will allow him to receive the care he needs, and which is available within Palestine.
Before the blockade imposed by Israel, Gaza was one of the breadbaskets of Palestine. But today the majority of the approximately two million people who live there are Palestinian refugees living in poor, overcrowded camps with limited access to clean water and electricity. The longstanding movement restrictions imposed by Israel have undermined Gaza’s economy, and resulted in high levels of unemployment, food insecurity, aid dependency and poor standards of hygiene and sanitation.
Simply getting the required travel permit to access care outside Gaza has become an exercise in futility. Within Gaza, half of the essential drugs list, including those for cancer chemotherapy, are at a zero-stock level. Other key drugs are only given out in the most extreme situations. A recent CTIP zoom based webinar with Dr. Tarek Loubani underlined just how acute is the lack of essential drugs.
In 1948, a little three-year-old with retinoblastoma in Ottawa was given a future. In 2021, what does the future hold for Ameer?
Catherine Casserly is the Secretary-Treasurer of the Ottawa Forum on Israel Palestine (OFIP). She visited Israel/Palestine in 2012.
St. John’s Eye Hospital in Jerusalem has clinics in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem and has been operating for over 137 years. The hospital is the main provider of eye care for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, and sees many of the most complex eye cases from across the oPt, which are referred to us from medical centres across the West Bank and Gaza. As it is the only charitable provider of eye care, the importance of the hospital for the region cannot be overstated. Anyone interested in making a charitable donation to its work in Gaza can do so at: https://www.stjohneyehospital.org/gaza-emergency-appeal/
Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about Canada’s response to the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue with a focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights for all. Readers with different points of view are invited to make comment.
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