|Vol. 21, No. 8||May 1, 1999|
Jewish Foundation Airlifts Supplies to Palestinians
by ROGER WIDMEYER
Texas Medical Center News
The cargo plane that touched down at Gaza International Airport on February 9 capped a remarkable effort in diplomacy and international relief. The plane carried over 80,000 pounds of medicines, medical equipment and supplies (equivalent to $3.3 million) destined for Shifa Hospital and clinics throughout Gaza. The relief effort was coordinated by Jews in the U.S. to help Palestinians in this troubled land.
The donation was organized by Texas Hadassah Medical Research Foundation - a partnership of the U.S. Hadassah Women's Organization in New York, Hadassah Medical Organization in Israel, Baylor College of Medicine and The Methodist Hospital. AmeriCares, the American relief organization, aided in arranging the donation. KLM Airlines transported the cargo to London, and a chartered plane took the cargo from there to Gaza.
Debra Zarkowsky, director of Texas Hadassah Medical Research Foundation spoke with the TMC News upon returning from the trip to Gaza. Zarkowsky and an AmeriCares project coordinator went to Israel several days before the airlift to iron out security details with the Israelis.
"There is incredible need in Gaza and the West Bank," Zarkowsky says. "The Palestinian Health Ministry has only a $90 million budget this year - and that's for 2.5 million Palestinians. That's about $35 per year for a population that already has a very high risk of chronic illness.
"Shifa Hospital - the main hospital in Gaza - has 200 beds, but serves 1 million people. Obviously, it is terribly overcrowded and the stress is evident," she says.
There were numerous security issues that needed to be addressed with the Israeli government and at check points entering into Gaza. The cargo plane - the first ever to land at the recently opened Gaza International Airport - needed to be unloaded quickly because it was allowed only to stay on the ground one afternoon, and there were no runway lights at the airport. ("The pilot and co-pilot helped unload," says Zarkowsky. "They managed to take off right at sunset.")
Another difficulty the effort faced was the death of King Hussein on February 7, a day before the scheduled landing at the Gaza airport. Texas Hadassah Medical Research Foundation postponed the donation one day and dedicated the effort to King Hussein's memory.
The Palestinian Minister of Health Riyad Al-Za'noun met the plane at the airport. "This is a historic moment for us, and a real sign of peace," he said. "This is the first donation from an American Jewish group and it shows support for the Palestinian people."
"The Palestinian health sector is in dire need of assistance," says Zarkowsky. "Gaza is developing very rapidly, and the domestic revenues just can't keep pace with the demands for service - especially in health care and education. Considering their resources, I'm impressed with how much they've been able to accomplish."
"This is another example of the diverse international initiatives you see in the Texas Medical Center, and the willingness to join forces with many agencies," says Dr. Armin Weinberg, director of the Chronic Disease Prevention and Control Research Center at Baylor and Methodist and professor of medicine at Baylor. Dr. Weinberg is active in several international projects and hosts many foreign visitors to TMC.
To Zarkowsky, the lack of resources was very pronounced at Shifa hospital. The intensive care unit had just a few beds, most of which were taken up by children with severe head trauma. ("They play in and around roads and are in and out of traffic. We nearly hit several children while we were there.") In the emergency room, two or three patients sat on each bed and the waiting area was standing room only. At the pediatric hospital, a stench filled the air, and children were often treated on the floor.
The scattered clinics in Gaza have only basic equipment and hardly more than gauze, band aids and aspirin.
Texas Hadassah Medical Research Foundation is continuing an ongoing effort with AmeriCares to duplicate this effort to other Palestinian communities.
"It's this kind of work - people working with people to make a difference in lives - that makes peace more real than signing an agreement," says Zarkowsky.
©2006 Texas Medical Center