by Bayan Abdel Wahad, Al-Akhbar English
Injured young man Ahmed Abdullah leans against the wall as he waits his turn in a long queue to see a doctor. All these patients need to find out if the stump where their arm or leg used to be can be fitted with a prosthetic. Waiting is unbearable and painful, especially since thousands more have joined the list of injured Gazans as a result of the last Israeli war on the Gaza Strip.
Gaza – Amputations are not the only phenomenon that stands out. Some patients are suffering from other ailments besides loss of limbs. Abdullah had his only hand on his forehead in an attempt to ameliorate his headache.
The Artificial Limb Center in the Gaza Strip is the only place of its kind providing services for amputees and it has over 48 individuals in urgent need of prosthetic replacement. The most complicated cases are people who lost both legs. Ahmed, from the Shujayeh neighborhood in east Gaza, who is standing with the other patients preferred to remain silent, not to maintain the quiet in the center but because his doctor told him that the shrapnel wounds in his head might interfere with his ability to express himself verbally.
Standing next to Ahmed were other patients waiting to be examined. Some of them had amputated feet from the second war in 2012 while others came complaining of pain after the prosthetic replacement.
Mohammed Radwan came for maintenance on his artificial limb. He was injured in the first war in the winter of 2008 while he was at work at a police station. He is now trying to get rid of one of the two canes he uses by walking on two legs, one of which is artificial. He is hopeful that his prosthetic replacement will succeed so he can resume his life after his injury has long prevented him from getting back to work.
The number of patients who have benefited from the service of prosthetic replacement which the center provides for free is about 300 people who have been injured as a result of the Israeli bombardments in the past five years. However, a number of people injured in the last war – Operation Protective Edge – have not been able to come to the center yet because they are still bed-ridden due to several injuries whose treatment takes precedence over prosthetic replacement. Others are trying to get better medical services in other countries even though they all face difficulties traveling or getting prosthetic supplies not allowed to get into Gaza.
Inside the examination ward of the Artificial Limb Center, a number of specialists are busy dealing with the different cases based on their needs. They gather the patients inside the training and physical therapy hall where they are trained on the use of their prosthesis, whether it’s an arm or a leg. The cases vary in terms of their response to the prosthetic limb. Dr. Nabil al-Shawa says that most of the cases that do not respond well are patients with upper amputations (above the knee). Another factor is the age of the patient and their ability to endure the training.
Shawa points out that in some cases, you can not tell that these people have an artificial limb because of how well they respond and the vitality with which they deal with it. He said that most of the cases they received after the war were below the knee amputations. Nevertheless, the center faces the same problems that all Gazans face, such as deteriorating economic conditions. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) recently stopped supporting the center because of its financial woes. The Red Cross on the other hand has continued to provide it with raw materials needed to manufacture the limbs. The center, which was established in 1976, belongs to the Gaza municipality.
The technical coordinator at the center, Nivine al-Ghusain, said that “despite all the difficulties we face in funding and getting the materials necessary to manufacture the artificial limbs, we will continue in our work.” She told Al-Akhbar that the center takes upon itself the maintenance of the prosthesis from time to time “in addition to changing it based on the patients’ needs.”
Injured Gazans protest
A number of cancer patients and Gazans injured in the most recent Israeli war on the Gaza Strip asked the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and the health minister in the unity government, Jawad Awwad, to dismiss the head of the External Medical Treatment Department, Amira al-Hindi, because of what they described as the “negligence” faced by patients who need medical referrals.
Sick and injured people accused Hindi during a sit-in in front of the office of the External Medical Treatment Department in the city of Gaza of exacerbating the suffering of Gazans and delaying their medical referrals for more than 20 days before they get signed.