"There is nothing we can do here to help him,” the doctor told Mahmoud’s mother.

Photo of Mahmoud.

Medical student Said Al-Yacoubi wrote this story about Mahmoud (pictured at right), a 5-year-old patient, for We Are Not Numbers. Reprinted with permission.

Mahmoud had a type of cancer called lymphoma, and it already was in an advanced stage—spreading throughout his body.

"There is nothing we can do here to help him,” the doctor told Mahmoud’s mother. “We will have to apply for permission to refer him out."

Sometimes, due to shortages of medicines, absence of proper technology, or lack of specific expertise caused by the Israeli blockade, our health system in Gaza is inadequate to treat certain patients, and they must be sent to the West Bank or Israel—requiring a nerve-wracking delay as the families wait for the Palestinian Authority (PA) to agree to cover their treatment, a hospital to accept them as patients and the Israeli government to give permission for them to pass through the Erez border crossing.

When I saw Mahmoud's mother after the decision to refer him out, she was greatly relieved. After 45 days of waiting, the PA had finally agreed to pay the cost of Mahmoud's referral to one of the hospitals in Israel, and the hospital had agreed to admit him. Now, she had to wait again, this time for a call informing the family that Israel had given permission for Mahmoud to leave Gaza through Erez.

Over 30% of patients in Gaza who need outside treatment are denied permits to leave or are delayed treatment.

A week later, we passed by Mahmoud's bed again, but he was not there. We asked the doctor in charge about him and he replied simply, "He died." 

Mahmoud was exhausted in his last days, and was not able to wait anymore. He had suffered an attack of severe respiratory distress; and was rushed to the intensive care unit. She told me she felt like his eyes were pleading with her not to leave him. Half an hour later, one of the physicians told her, "We couldn’t do anything to save him." 

On January 5, 2015, Mahmoud's file was closed, the final step in the referral process still pending.


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