Mother hopes Gaza cancer care will ‘end our suffering’

Dr. Musa and Suhaila Nasir Department for Pediatric Cancer officially will open on Feb. 19 in Gaza. (AN photo by Hazem Balousha)
Updated 08 February 2019

Mother hopes Gaza cancer care will ‘end our suffering’

  • Israeli authorities have repeatedly refused to allow the boy’s father, Hussein, 67, to escort him on the 30 km journey from Abasan in the southern Gaza Strip

 GAZA CITY: A Palestinian woman has accused Israeli authorities of subjecting her family to “real suffering” over restrictions on escorting their 13-year-old son to hospital for cancer treatment. 

Nisreen Al-Shawaf’s son, Saddam, developed leukemia several years ago and receives treatment in Palestinian hospitals in the West Bank or Jerusalem.

Israeli authorities have repeatedly refused to allow the boy’s father, Hussein, 67, to escort him on the 30 km journey from Abasan in the southern Gaza Strip. The refusals were made on “security grounds,” according to Al-Shawaf.

“The occupation manipulates us and the life of my child,” she said.

Treatment for Saddam’s illness has not been available in the Gaza Strip, which has been under virtual siege since the Hamas takeover in mid-2007. Now Al-Shawaf is looking to a new cancer-treatment center in Gaza to improve her son’s hopes of treatment.

The Dr. Musa and Suhaila Nasir Department for Pediatric Cancer will open on Feb. 19. The center, the largest in the Palestinian Authority, is funded by the Palestine Children’s Relief Foundation, a US-based nongovernmental organization founded in 1991 that provides medical services to sick and wounded children in the Middle East.

Ranan Al-Muthaffar, the foundation’s executive vice president for operations, told Arab News that all children with cancer in Gaza are referred for treatment abroad, but in most cases were unable to travel with their loved ones because of Israeli restrictions on permits.

The $3 million pediatric department will include two 16-room accommodation centers, a 15-bed daily care room, kitchen, pharmacy and library. It will also offer school instruction to help students continue their studies. Staff will consist of a director, four doctors and 17 nurses.

Dr. Zeina Salman, a volunteer doctor with the foundation, said that the department will provide chemotherapy treatment for about half of the cancer patients in Gaza, while those who need radiation therapy will have to travel to other hospitals.

In the meantime, the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health is forced to refer cancer patients to Palestinian hospitals in the West Bank and Jerusalem, or to Israeli hospitals, where they must pay for treatment.

Al-Shawaf said the journey Saddam must undertake for treatment — from Gaza and through the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing — represents “real suffering.” 

The trip begins with an application for an Israeli permit for the patient and his escort through the authority’s “treatment department.”

Saddam’s father, who is also suffering from cancer, accompanied his son on his first hospital visits.

“But we have been shocked by the authorities’ refusal to accept my husband as an escort for Saddam, and to set impossible conditions for granting a permit,” Al-Shawaf told Arab News.

She said her husband’s requests to escort his son had been denied four times.

Al-Shawaf said Israeli authorities had also forced her to reapply for a permit after she began accompanying Saddam.

The Israeli treatment of cancer patients, especially children, leaves families in a “whirlpool,” she said.

“They are burdened with daily anxiety about the treatment needed in Gaza and the permit
to leave the Erez crossing,” she said.

According to the ministry, 60 percent of patients’ requests for permits are rejected by Israeli authorities, and 5 percent of patients were detained in 2018.

More than 8,500 people, including 608 children, in the Gaza Strip needed treatment for cancer, the ministry said.

In a report issued on World Cancer Day on Feb. 4, the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights said that the psychological and physical suffering of cancer patients in Gaza is compounded by a shortage of medical equipment and medicines.

The center claimed Israeli restrictions had resulted in the deaths of 45 cancer patients in the enclave from 2016 to 2018.

Private schools and universities in Lebanon are in economic crisis

Updated 31 May 2020

Private schools and universities in Lebanon are in economic crisis

  • Education centers risk closing or reducing costs after nationwide disruption

BEIRUT: The future of thousands of Lebanese students is at stake as private educational institutions assess their ability to continue operations in the next academic year, due to the economic crunch facing Lebanon.

“If the economic situation continues, private schools will be forced to close down for good, a move that will affect more than 700,000 students, 59,000 teachers and 15,000 school administrators,” said Father Boutros Azar, secretary-general of the General Secretariat of Catholic Schools in Lebanon, and coordinator of the Association of Private Educational Institutions in Lebanon.

Over 1,600 private schools are operating in Lebanon, including free schools and those affiliated to various religion societies, Azar said.

The number of public schools in Lebanon, he added, is 1,256, serving 328,000 students from the underprivileged segment of society and 200,000 Syrian refugee students.

“The number of teachers in the formal education sector is 43,500 professors and teachers — 20,000 of them are permanent staff and the rest work on a contract basis,” Azar said.

This development will also have an impact on private universities, whose number has increased to 50 in the past 20 years.

Ibrahim Khoury, a special adviser to the president of the American University of Beirut (AUB), told Arab News: “All universities in Lebanon are facing an unprecedented crisis, and the message of AUB President Dr. Fadlo R. Khuri, a few weeks ago, was a warning about the future of university education in light of the economic crisis that Lebanon is facing.”

Khoury said many universities would likely reduce scientific research and dispense with certain specializations.

“Distance education is ongoing, but classes must be opened for students in the first semester of next year, but we do not yet know what these classes are.”

Khoury added: “Universities are still following the official exchange rate of the dollar, which is 1,512 Lebanese pounds (LBP), but the matter is subject to future developments.”

Lebanese parents are also worried about the future of their children, after the current school year ended unexpectedly due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Dr. Tarek Majzoub, the minister of education and higher education, ended the academic year in public schools and gave private schools the right to take a call on this issue.

He said: “The coming academic year will witness intensification of lessons and a review of what students have missed.”

But what sort of academic year should students expect?

Differences have developed between school owners, parents, and teachers over the payment of tuition fees and teachers’ salaries.

Azar said: “What I know so far is that 80 percent of the Catholic schools in Lebanon will close their doors next year unless they are financially helped. Some families today are unable to pay the rest of the dues for the current year either because their breadwinners were fired or not working, while others do not want to pay dues because schools remain closed due to the pandemic.

“Lebanese people chose private schools for their children because they trusted them for their quality — 70 percent of Lebanese children go to private schools. Today, we are facing a major crisis, and I say that if education collapses in Lebanon, then the area surrounding Lebanon will collapse. Many Arab students from the Gulf states receive their education in the most prestigious Lebanese schools,” he added.

“What we are witnessing today is that the educational contract is no longer respected. It can be said that what broke the back of school owners is the approval by the Lebanese parliament in 2018 of a series of ranks and salaries that have bankrupted the state treasury and put all institutions in a continuous deficit.”

Those in charge of formal education expect a great rush for enrollment in public schools and universities, but the ability of these formal institutions to absorb huge numbers of students is limited.

Majzoub said that his ministry was “working on proposing a law to help private schools provide a financial contribution for each learner within the available financial capabilities or grants that can be obtained.”

The undersecretary of the Teachers’ Syndicate in Private Schools, former government minister Ziad Baroud, said: “The crisis of remaining student fees and teachers’ salaries needs to be resolved by special legislation in parliament that regulates the relationship between all parties — teachers, parents, and schools — and takes into account the measures to end teachers’ contracts before July 5.”

Baroud spoke of “hundreds of teachers being discharged from their schools every year based on a legal article that gives the right to school owners to dismiss any teacher from service, provided that they send the teacher a notification before July 5.”

H said it should be kept in mind that thousands of teachers have not yet received their salaries for the last four months, and some of them had received only 50 percent or even less of their salaries.

Khoury said: “The AUB received a loan from the late Prime Minister Rashid Karami at the beginning of the 1975 Lebanese civil war to keep it afloat. In the 1990s, the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri provided aid and grants to the universities. Today, no one can help universities.”

Last Thursday, the Lebanese parliament adopted a proposal submitted by the leader of the Future Parliamentary Bloc, Bahia Hariri, to allocate LBP300 billion to the education sector to help it mitigate the effects of COVID-19.