Inside the desperate effort to evacuate young cancer patients from Gaza

They are one of the most vulnerable groups in Gaza.

The youngest is less than one year old and the oldest is 14 years old. All are battling lymphoma, leukemia and tumors that doctors say can be fatal if left untreated.

Over the past 10 days, 21 children with cancer have been transferred from Gaza to hospitals in Egypt and Jordan, according to doctors involved in the rescue effort. But at least 30 young cancer patients have yet to be evacuated, and aid workers say they have been unable to reach some families because of the chaos of the war.

“This is catastrophic,” said Dr. Becker Gaude, director of Randisi Children’s Specialty Hospital, the only medical center in Gaza with a pediatric cancer ward until it was forced to close on Friday amid heavy fighting. .Before the hospital closed, critically ill patients were sent home or transferred to nearby Al-Shifa Hospital through violent streets, which Besieged by Israeli troops.

Hospital has become a specific flash point Israel accuses Hamas of turning medical facilities, including Rantisi and Shifa, into safe houses and command centers. Hamas and hospital officials deny the accusations.

Efforts to evacuate children with cancer began in mid-October and require negotiations between the White House, Egypt, Israel and Palestinian health officials in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

But those involved in the evacuation said progress was fitful.

Aid workers and doctors, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of their work, described frantic families who lost cell phone service and missed the specific day their children were allowed to enter Egypt. Some people wait for hours for ambulances but never reach the junction.

One family arrived at the border only to find that their child had been approved to cross, but the parents’ names were inexplicably left off the list.

The plight of the children epitomizes the suffering in Gaza since the war began more than a month ago, following a surprise attack by Hamas that Israeli authorities said killed 1,200 people. Israeli retaliation has killed more than 11,000 people, including more than 4,500 children, according to Gaza health officials.

Most children with cancer are treated at Al-Rantisi Hospital, which as of two weeks ago had 35 inpatient pediatric cancer patients, Dr. Gaud said. But the situation began to deteriorate over the past week as shells hit the hospital’s water tanks and electrical system. Empty.

Dr Gaude said Lantisi Hospital was forced to close completely on Friday, with staff dragging some patients outside to wait for ambulances. Israeli soldiers provided a map showing what they said was a safe route during the fighting.

The children received their final dose of chemotherapy before leaving. Dr. Gaud said that without further care, “their condition will worsen.”

The emergency evacuation of patients was organized by the World Health Organization and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which is involved in building services in Lantisi.

The organizations set up registers of children to be relocated, along with the phone numbers of their relatives. St. Jude Hospital also pledged to organize their transportation to Egypt and ensure their medical care.

But the children’s names must be added to the daily list of people approved to enter Egypt through the Rafah border, which is no simple task. More than two weeks have passed and there is still no evacuation.

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