MSF notes worrisome health situation and obstacles to providing medical care

Press release, Hebron, West Bank and Paris, December 7, 2000 - Noting the increasing obstacles regarding access to medical care in the old town of Hebron (West Bank), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has organized mobile teams of doctors and psychologists. Centered around home visits, this work has brought to light the deteriorating health status of the Palestinian people over the last few months. Since September 28th, the old town of Hebron has been subject to a permanent curfew which permits only a few hours of free travel each day. Most inhabitants hesitate to leave their homes due to either the curfew, military controls, or because they fear the requisition or the destruction of their belongings. As a result, people find it difficult to travel to the hospital or to visit the doctor. Medical aid, both public and private, is officially authorized in the old town but, in reality, the obstacles (roadblocks, arrests, intimidation) are so numerous that the presence of doctors in the old town is irregular. In the zone under Israeli control (40,000 inhabitants including 400 settlers protected by 1,500 soldiers), "there is nearly no one in the streets. It's like a ghost town" explained Dr. Itsaso Etcheverry, an MSF volunteer. "The 28th of September we went had to pass five military roadblocks before reaching a neighbourhood near the tomb of Abraham. We came here to give medication to an asthmatic patient who had run out of medication. When we knocked on the door, the people were scared to open." "We met a family," explained Dr.Pierre-Pascal Vandini, Assistant Director of Operations for the France office of MSF and who was in Hebron recently conducting an exploratory mission, "where we saw a young man, whose wrists were broken when he was stopped by the police, a 15-year-old adolescent with a paralysed arm and a five-year-old child suffering from epilepsy who wasn't being followed by a doctor. In another family, we saw a 60-year-old diabetic woman who today suffers from rare, severe complications. These examples show that the families have virtually no solution for obtaining care when confronted by severe health problems. These examples also indicate a chronic lack of care for this population." The medical and psychological home consultations target general medical needs but also treat acute stress and work to prevent post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These consultations also encompass the villages of the surrounding area, which are often isolated by military roadblocks. A similar program was launched in the Gaza Strip on November 20th. MSF teams have been present in the West Bank since 1994. They have been reinforced since the debut of the violence. Right now, 13 MSF volunteers are present in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.