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New energy for Gaza’s only artificial limb centre

22-09-2006 Feature

After Gaza’s power plant was bombed in June, its only orthopaedic centre was unable to help all its handicapped patients. Now, a generator provided by the Norwegian Red Cross is helping the work get back up to speed.

" Normally we treat about 50 patients a week, providing them with artificial limbs, polio braces, or plastic splints, " explains Hazim Shawwa, director of the artificial limb centre in Gaza. " But after the bombing of the Gaza power plant at the end of June, Gaza lost half of its electricity; we were only able to provide services to 15 or 20 patients, at the most, each week.

  ©ICRC/B. Barrett/er-n-00020-29    
Fourteen generators from Norway power essential services in the Gaza Strip. 

" We went from six workdays a week to three, and even then the power supply needed to run our machinery was unpredictable. We couldn’t afford to schedule too many patients. "

The centre is the only one of its kind for the Gaza Strip’s 1.4 million residents. In early September, the ICRC installed a generator – donated by the Norwegian Red Cross – at the centre, to ensure a constant electricity supply. The ICRC is providing fuel for the generator for four months.

" Many of our patients were waiting at home, " says Mr. Shawwa, " they were pleading with us over the phone for help but we couldn't do anything. Others became frustrated, demanding service after travelling here at their own cost. The delays were harming their progress.

" We still have a backlog of about 30 patients because of the power disruptions, " he says, " although normally there is no waiting list. Now we can resume work on a steady schedule because of the generator. "

Out of every ten patients, four are under five years old. Many have bone deformities related to maternal malnutrition. Other cases include amputations resulting from road accidents, severe diabetes, congenital diseases, polio or injuries related to the violence. The centre has about 4,500 open files – many patients will require regular adjustments throughout their lives.

The centre, which has been operating out of the same building since 1985, has 13 employees, including five specialized technicians. They received 80% of their salaries for May but have not been paid at all for June, July or August.

However, Mr. Shawwa says his staff keeps on working. " When you work with handicapped people, you become very connected with them through compassion and solidarity. You cannot abandon them. "

The generator is on e of 14 donated by the Norwegian Red Cross and installed by the ICRC. The others ensure uninterrupted power for water and waste-water pumping stations throughout the Gaza Strip.