NPR’s Ailing Coverage of Kidney Care in Gaza

In a March 12 broadcast, NPR’s Larry Abramson asserts that, in Gaza, “the reasons for the [medical] supply shortages are many,” so why does he identify only one of the alleged reasons? Completely ignoring the political infighting between the Fatah-Hamas rivalry, the factor that the World Health Organization has identified as the primary cause of medical shortages in Gaza, Abramson names only Israel as a culprit.

Covering the first successful transplant, Abramson reports (“Can Kidney Transplants Ease Strain on Gaza’s Health System?”):

ABRAMSON: Thanks to a host of factors, Shifa Hospital faces supply shortages of medications that kidney patients need to manage nausea and other symptoms, and those dialysis machines are in constant use, so they require lots of maintenance. Dr. Ayman al Sahbeni says it’s very tough to get the parts needed to keep those machines in working order.

DR. AYMAN AL SAHBENI: We have machines, 35, from different country, and every machine needs special spare parts, and you can imagine.

ABRAMSON: The reasons for the supply shortages are many. Israel restricts what can come in and out of Gaza. Humanitarian relief is supposed to get top priority, but the process still causes delays. The bottom line is that dialysis patients often have trouble scheduling appointments.

Thus, while Abramson asserts that “the reasons for the supply shortages are many,” he deems only one of those reasons worthy of mention: alleged Israeli restrictions. But the biggest cause for the shortages has nothing at all to do with Israel, and everything to do with the Hamas-Fatah rivalry. Fatah controls the Ramallah Health Ministry, while Hamas runs the Gaza ministry. As the International Business Times News reported on April 24, 2012:

Gaza hospitals are running out of medicine and supplies after months of unanswered calls for help.

Dr Munir al-Barsh, director general of the pharmaceutical department at Gaza’s ministry of health, confirmed that a lot of supplies have run out completely, including bandages, syringes and plaster for casts, as well as 186 types of medicine.

Ashraf al-Qafer, director of public relations and information at the health ministry, had warned in March that the scarcity of medical supplies had reached crisis point.

He said hospitals were in dire need of “infant incubators, dialysis machines, cardiac catheterisation units and medicine”.

The intensive care units at hospitals have been particularly affected by the shortage, prompting fears that patients will be unable to receive the treatment or surgery that they so desperately need.

Barsh blamed the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah for not sending Gaza’s share of medical supplies and equipment, which accounts for about 40 percent of the World Bank’s aid to Gaza and the West Bank. (Emphasis added.)

Likewise, the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency reported Jan. 10, 2012:

The PA ministry of health transferred five truckloads of medicines for kidney dialysis to the International Red Cross for delivery to the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, the ministry said.

Gaza, which is under an Israeli blockade, is suffering a critical shortage of medical supplies and a Palestinian human rights group had accused the Ramallah-based ministry of holding up delivery of dialysis supplies for political reasons.

Dialysis for all renal failure patients in the blockaded strip, which include 15 children, had been stopped, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights said.

On Tuesday Ministry official Omar al-Nasr accused his Gaza counterparts of damaging the health system, due to “practices by certain groups within Hamas,” pointing to the blocking of Gaza medics from attending a conference in Jerusalem in December.

The Ramallah health ministry has invited UN, WHO and Red Cross representatives to an urgent meeting with health minister Fathi Abu Moghli to discuss the medical situation in Gaza, officials said.

Earlier, Ma’an reported on Feb. 14, 2011 (“Hamas-Fatah rivalry behind Gaza medical shortages“):

The main reason for the worsening shortages of essential drugs and medical supplies in the Gaza Strip is that the Palestinian Authority ministry of health in the West Bank has not delivered enough drugs and medical supplies to Gaza, according to the World Health Organization, international aid organizations and Gaza health ministry officials.

WHO did not attribute the shortages to Israel’s more than three-year blockade of the Strip. “Israeli authorities are not blocking the entry of drugs and disposables to Gaza. They recognize these are priority items for humanitarian needs,” said WHO head in Jerusalem Tony Laurance.

Gaza’s health ministry is run by the Hamas-led government, but its funds and supplies are provided by the PA, led by rival Palestinian faction Fatah in the West Bank. Lack of communication between the two ministries due to internal conflict is worsening an already crumbling healthcare system in Gaza.

If a Palestinian news site can report WHO findings, even when they exonerate Israel, why can’t National Public Radio? Ignoring the WHO’s assessment that Israeli authorities are not the cause of shortages, Abramson insists: “Humanitarian relief is supposed to get top priority, but the process causes delays.”

According to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Requests submitted by the international community are answered within 24-72 hours of submission, almost always positively.” A Nov. 17, 2012 report by Israel’s COGAT (Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories) found that:

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Since September 2012, international organizations, in coordination with the Gaza CLA, have imported 32 trucks of drugs and medical supplies through Kerem Shalom Crossing. This has included spare parts for dialysis machines, helium for MRI machines, and three fully equipped ambulances. An additional five loads of medicine were imported into Gaza through the Erez Crossing through special coordination. . .

NPR’s failure to identify the real culprit for the Gaza medical shortages is yet another symptom of the network’s longstanding ailing coverage.

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