The rapid spread of COVID-19, and the fear that healthcare facilities could become sources of contagion, have encouraged new models of care that avoid physical contact. Like many doctors, I have turned to ‘telemedicine’ to adapt to these difficult times. This approach allows physicians and patients to communicate 24/7 by using smartphones or computer webcams, while protecting the patients, clinicians, and the community from possible exposure to the novel coronavirus.
Working from my clinic in Haifa, fully equipped and wired, I greatly appreciate the effectiveness of these methods in consoling my patients and providing them with an easy, accessible, and safe service.
Yet I cannot stop thinking of my fellow medical colleagues in the blockaded Gaza Strip, whom I was able to visit several times as part of medical delegations organized by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.
I recall a foolish question that popped into my mind during one of my recent visits to Gaza’s hospitals and clinics: “You still use paper medical files? Why don’t you use electronic medical records?” This naive question quickly vanished, as I remembered the electricity crisis and regular power outages caused by the Israeli- and Egyptian-imposed siege, along with the repeated Israeli bombardments that destroyed hospitals and medical infrastructures.
I felt strangely embarrassed by the entire experience. I — a Palestinian pediatrician, educated and trained in Israeli universities and hospitals, with unlimited access to online resources, trainings, and conferences abroad — had come to Gaza to “help,” “consult,” and be the “foreign expert” to brilliant, hard-working, and inspiring Palestinian doctors and nurses who face unimaginable working conditions.
These medical workers are forced to develop their skills with scarce resources at Gaza’s universities and training centers. They have very limited internet or electricity to access online resources. The Israeli siege bars them from interacting with the outside world, importing new devices and equipment, or participating in international conferences and fellowships.
Yet despite all these obstacles, Gaza’s doctors and nurses continue to work professionally in overcrowded wards and clinics, with very little material rewards, while having to tolerate their patients putting more trust in the opinion of a “foreign expert” like myself who happened to be born on the “right” side of the Green Line.