In December 2015 approval for Gazans to obtain permits to access medical care in the West Bank or East Jerusalem dropped to its lowest level in seven years, at only 67.5% (WHO). Those requiring healthcare, including the young and elderly who require family members to accompany them, often have to negotiate all of these factors just to receive a diagnosis. Even if they obtain a permit they may still be denied entry on the day, discouraging many from trying to reach medical care.
Gaza's physical and economic isolation and the frequent outbreaks of conflict have led to high levels of poverty. Gaza has one of the highest levels of unemployment in the world, with 43% of the working population unable to find employment (World Bank). This contributes to 80% of Gazans relying on international aid to survive (UNOCHA). With high levels of poverty and unemployment, many patients do not seek out medical care, thinking they could not afford treatment if they did.
St John Gaza Hospital has been providing charitable eye care for the 1.8 million residents of Gaza since 1992. Every year SJEHG sees over 30,000 patients in Gaza, diagnosing debilitating eye conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma, corneal scarring and diabetic retinopathy. SJEHG charges subsidized prices for consultations and procedures for all and completely waives fees for those who cannot afford to make any contribution. In spite of the difficulties faced by our staff, our hospital operates with the same standards of care as any hospital anywhere in the world, conducting a busy outpatients department and performing day case surgery.
The demand for our sight saving services in Gaza is increasing every year. In 2008 our hospital saw just over 16,000 patients and performed no major operations.
In 2015, we saw 30,500 outpatients (including 9,500 children) and performed 920 major operations. In response to this increased demand, we have just finished the building of a brand new state of the art hospital in Gaza, which will be officially opened in September 2016. This hospital will significantly increase our capacity to reach and treat more patients; and will mean we have a much greater impact on preventable blindness in Gaza.