David Miller
The Media Line
August 15, 2010 - 12:00am

Transfer of Palestinian patients to Israel for medical treatment will soon come to an end in order to keep funding inside the Palestinian Authority, according to the Palestinian Minister of Health.

Minister Fathi Abu-Moghli said that funds previously used to cover medical treatment for Palestinians abroad would now be channeled into developing the Palestinian health sector.

"The issue of referrals is a culture imposed on us by the occupation after 1967, when it tied the Palestinian medical system to the Israeli medical system. Even the Palestinian authority, when it was established, failed to change this culture. Officials even strengthened it by intervening in transferring patients to Israeli hospitals," Abu-Moghli said in an interview with the Ma'an radio network over the weekend.

Dr. Omar Al-Nasser, head of the public relations and media department at the Palestinian Health Ministry said referral of Palestinian patients abroad would only totally cease when the Palestinian health system could provide a complete alternative to Israeli hospitals.

"The better the state of health care in the Palestinian Authority, the less referrals we will do," Al-Nasser told The Media Line. "It will be difficult to forgo referrals 100%, but we will do our best."

"This is not a political matter, but rather the development and provision of services in Palestine" he added.

Dr. Al-Nasser said that until recently, the Palestinian Authority would send children with hearing problems to Israel to receive cochlear implant. Each surgery would cost $33,000.

Now, this surgery can be done cheaper in the West Bank. According to Al-Nasser, the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health has trained medical staff at the Rafidia hospital in Nablus to perform cochlear implants at a cost of only $5,000.

"Ten days ago we transplanted a kidney for the first time in a governmental hospital," Al-Nasser added with pride, referring to the new Palestine Medical Complex, inaugurated last week in Ramallah.

On the Israeli side, a more skeptical tone was expressed concerning the quality of Palestinian health care.

"There is gradual improvement in medical services in the Palestinian Authority," a spokesman for the Israeli Civil Administration, the body responsible for coordinating the entry of Palestinian patients into Israel, told The Media Line. The spokesman doubted, however, whether the level of Palestinian health care would ever reach that of Israel's.

"The [Israeli] army has no interest in receiving patients," the spokesman said. "This decision would mean fewer security risks, less responsibility, less complaints by [Palestinian] women giving birth at checkpoints."

He added that Israel encourages Palestinian self-reliance by training medical staff in Israeli hospitals, stressing that many Palestinian patients are currently referred to private Arab hospitals in East Jerusalem.

According to Israeli statistics, in the first half of 2010 some 43,200 Palestinians were allowed into Israel for medical treatment.

Palestinian Health Minister Abu-Moghli reported that the number of Palestinian patients treated abroad decreased by 50% between 2008 and 2009. The sum spent on referrals was reduced from about $100 million to $50 million every year.

"In a short time we shall say there are no more referrals of any patients abroad, because all the services will exist [in the Palestinian Authority], and on a high level," Abu-Moghli said.


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