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Healthcare under siege

Carl Heneghan
Last edited 13th May 2010

The Oxford Society of Medicine, tonight at St Catherine’s College held an event to discuss how best to support medical education in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. ‘What is it that inspires Doctors to work in the Occupied Territories,’ was the theme of the night

The key themes of the night were:
1 How have health services in the Occupied Palestinian Territory suffered as a result of their isolation and fragmentation, and how can this be resolved?
2 What are the current barriers to education in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and how can these be addressed?
3 What is the potential for increasing research capacities the Occupied Palestinian Territory?
4 Does the UK have special responsibility to help medical education in the Occupied Palestinian Territory? And if so, how can this be achieved?

The panel gave ten minute talks: Dr Nick Dudley - Consultant Endocrine Surgeon at the Department of Surgery, John Radcliffe Hospital started the night by talking about ‘Facts on the ground.’ In 1946 Palestinian land occupation was 94%, by 2010 this figure is 10% and there are currently 4.7 million refugees. Over 100 UN resolutions have been contravened in the occupation. The impact is to deprive Palestinians of their livelihood, water resources are scarce, and the construction of the settlements justifies the wall and the road matrix, which is currently 450 km in length. Oh and it’s electrified. On the ground this means 39% of Palestinians are encircled or separated from their land, 34% live outside the wall. ‘Passing check points is deeply humiliating.’

Could the stats be any worse, well 70% of small businesses have closed in the last ten years whilst 132 pupils have been killed on their way to school, 12,000 homes destroyed since 1967. In Gaza, 80% of the population exist on £2 dollars a day whilst the blockade prevents exports and viable business.

Dr Richard Horton - Editor-in-chief of The Lancet - talked about his trip there earlier this year, ‘What could we do to help?’ One of the pressing needs is to systematically train researchers, training Phds, supporting Masters Students. Supporting the Universities to better understand the Palestinian case, understand the needs, and focus on supporting human rights. ‘There is a lot we can do’ says Richard Horton.
Checkpoints are like going through ‘Cattle gates, deeply humiliating.’

Prof. Colin Green - Professor of Surgical Science at UCL and UNESCO Chair of Cryobiology with the Ukraine Academy of Science – opened with ‘It isn’t all doom and gloom, and there are beacons of light.’ A group of us in 1989 started thinking about starting a Medical School, which took its first students in 1994.

Starting with 32 students, near Jerusalem (50% were women) students undertook a seven year course. The first students graduated in 2001, 23 of them. In a short space of time they have grown to 800 students in four different campuses. I think he’s right, and He is determined to go on working with the schools. The weaknesses are the specialities only one pathologist in the whole of the West Bank. ‘Family practice is very poor,’ it seems everyone goes to the hospital: ‘We need champions of primary care,’ enthused Prof Green. In addition, it seems what is also desperately missing is psychiatrists. What are we to do?

Mr Nick Maynard - Consultant Upper Gastro-Intestinal Surgeon at the John Radcliffe Hospital, talked about his recent trip to Palestine. Three years ago he knew nothing about the region, but since this time He has learnt a lot from the medical students, whilst teaching out there. It took medical student at one of his teaching sessions 3 and half hours to get there. ‘There is never a better time for doctors to go there and teach.’

‘On that note’ what should we be doing?

Got any answers?

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