Hope for Gaza’s Forgotten Amputees
The Gaza Strip has endured four wars between 2008 and 2021. A total of 19,425 have sustained injuries, while 4,179 civilians have passed away. Currently, 536 Gazans have experienced limb loss as a direct result of the conflict with Israel.
During the first 24 hours of the first war alone, consultant orthopedic surgeon Dr. Nabeel Al Shawa supervised 19 amputations. And up until today, a brutal reality remains: many of Gaza's amputees have struggled to rebuild their lives.
Abdel Rahim, 62, paints a clear picture of what life is like for amputees in Gaza. Rahim lost a limb while at work, delivering bottled gas, during Gaza's second war in 2012. He did not only lose a limb that day; he also lost chances for job opportunities.
According to Rahim, the unemployment rate in Gaza in conflict is at almost 70%. Furthermore, opportunities for someone with a severe disability—like him—are either limited or non-existent.
However, a recently opened hospital is slowly changing that.
The amputees in Gaza needed hope in the form of affordable and well-made prosthetic limbs to rejoin the society that had forgotten them.
Completed in 2019, the Hamad Bin Khalifa Hospital designs, produces, and maintains the most advanced prosthetic limbs in Gaza. The state-of-the-art hospital has created more than 200 prosthetic limbs, funded by the hospital. The facility also houses audiology, rehabilitation, neurology, and physiotherapy wards, to further support many injured. Psychosocial support teams are also available to work with each prosthetic limb beneficiary to improve their emotional well-being.
Before the hospital opened, Gaza's amputees were serviced by the Gaza Artificial Limbs and Polio Center (ALPC). Others have received treatment for more advanced prosthetic limbs in Canada, Europe, and the US. The cost of these out-of-the-country treatments can go up to $120,000 per patient.
However, patients seeking permission to travel overseas for treatment or prosthetic maintenance have been running into various difficulties. Furthermore, tight controls are enforced for prosthetic limbs engineered abroad. The existence of Hamad Hospital significantly decreases the patients' burden.
According to Ahmed Al Absi, head of prosthetics at Hamad Hospital, the prosthetic limbs created at the hospital are made from the most durable lightweight materials possible, like carbon fiber and titanium. Only the most sophisticated joints are also used.
Each prosthetic limb is designed to "suit the patient's lifestyle...without the need for travel" outside of Gaza.
One of the beneficiaries is 28-year-old Ahmed Saeed Al Najar. He lost his right leg above the knee from a drone rocket blast that pierced his taxi's sunroof during Gaza's third war in 2014. He also suffered from intensive burns, sustained multiple shrapnel wounds, and lost his right eye.
Al Najar described receiving a prosthetic limb as "life-changing." Using a prosthesis has allowed him to ride a motorbike and earn a living as a delivery driver.
Sadly, the wars didn't exempt children. During the fourth war in May this year, 67 children were killed, and 685 were injured. Six-year-old Saleh Hmid lost his leg after getting caught in a blast from a drone rocket. He will be fitted for his first prosthetic limb, and he hopes that he will be able to play football and swim and run on the beach one day.Although access to advanced prosthetic limbs has allowed Gaza's amputees to rebuild their lives, many will struggle with the scars of war for a long time.