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Conflict in Israel could have dire impact on ophthalmic care in country

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In the wake of the October 7 surprise attack by Hamas, Israel finds itself thrust into war, and ophthalmologists are working to provide the best care they can under the conditions they find themselves in.

(Image Credit: AdobeStock/Anna)

(Image Credit: AdobeStock/Anna)

In the weeks since Hamas conducted a surprise attack on Israel on October 7, the nation has declared war and the battle has intensified in southern Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Last week, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra spoke with Minister Moshe Arbel, MP, Israeli Minister of Health and Minister of Interior.1

Becerra reaffirmed the United States’ solidarity with the government and people of Israel, including ensuring any potential health needs.

As the war rages on with no prospects for a halt to fighting on the horizon, concerns about the access to healthcare, including ophthalmic care, will increase.

Anat Loewenstein, MD, is based at the Division of Ophthalmology at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv, Israel. She told Ophthalmology Times that while the war in Israel has yet to impact ophthalmic care, she said a prolonged battle could have severe consequences for all of healthcare.

“For the meantime the ambulatory services at the various medical centers are working continuously and we are trying to provide the best care we can under the reality we were forced into,” she said.

Amid fighting in the country, Loewenstein said concern for patients’ safety and care increases.

“My concern that a prolonged war with terrorism will effect patients with chronic conditions such as AMD and their vision will deteriorate due to missed injections or monitoring appointments,” she said. “Our policy of course is to try and preserve the routine as long as possible and care for our patients as best as we can.”

Moreover, at the hospital where Loewenstein works, efforts are underway to ensure patient care can continue to be administered to patients.

“The hospital is preparing for the worst case scenario, and our department will only hospitalize urgent cases in case of a widespread war,” she explained. “All of the departments are moving to a secure area. Ambulatory care will continue as long as it is safe to do so.”

The war already has impacted medical education in the country, including ophthalmology students.

“Unfortunately we are not conducting lectures for our residents at the moment until the situation is resolved,” Loewenstein said. “Also, the exams are being postponed to a later date with the hope for better days.”

Loewenstein also noted a key concern is access to areas of combat, and there is a concern that physicians will not be able to have access to the wounded amidst combat.

“A lot of our physicians are being recruited to the army which may leave us with low morale and exhaustion,” she said. “In addition, there is a concern of human resources not being enough to treat all the patients that will be hospitalized due to the war.”

Michele Freund, a physician assistant from New York City, is volunteering in the country, according to CBS News, which noted she has family ties to the country and was on vacation there when Hamas attacked.2

“Everyone feels really helpless right now and I think they're doing whatever they can," she told the network. "It's actually overwhelming to see the amount of support and love that Jews and Israelis are receiving, even when we are also terrified and horrified at what's happening,”

Other groups also are stepping up to help avert a crisis in Israel and Gaza.

In a statement on its website, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), said it is calling for all parties to the conflict to ensure the safety of civilians and medical facilities.3

Avril Benoît, executive director of MSF-USA, said in the statement that MSF does not currently run medical programs in Israel.

“This is because we focus on filling the greatest gaps in health care, and Israel has strong emergency and health systems,” Benoît said on the website. “MSF has offered its support to Israeli hospitals treating large numbers of casualties following attacks by Hamas militants on October 7.”

The Jerusalem Post reported the Israeli Health Ministry has received thousands of applications from foreign nurses, doctors and other medical personnel to come and help in the country’s hospitals and clinics. As a result the ministry may allow many medical personnel to come even though they lack an Israeli license.It is urging any non-Israeli wishing to volunteer to apply for a temporary license, according to the report.4

The Washington Post reported October 16 that attacks by Hamas have killed at least 1,400 people in Israel, with nearly 3,900 injured. The publication also reported that Palestinian officials indicated 2,670 people in Gaza have been killed and 9,600 wounded.

According to the U.S. State Department, 30 Americans have been killed in Israel and 13 U.S. nationals remain unaccounted for. No information was available for Americans in Gaza, where more than 500 Palestinian Americans are believed to be living, according to the publication.5

References:
  1. Affairs (ASPA) AS for P. Readout of HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra’s Call with Israel’s Minister of Health and Minister of Interior. HHS.gov. Published October 12, 2023. Accessed October 16, 2023. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2023/10/12/readout-hhs-secretary-xavier-becerras-call-israels-minister-health-and-minister-interior.html
  2. American volunteers at Israeli hospital as civilians mobilize to help: Everyone “doing whatever they can” - CBS News. www.cbsnews.com. Published October 11, 2023. Accessed October 16, 2023. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/israel-hamas-war-civilians-help-victims-american-hospital/
  3. On our response to the Israel-Gaza war. Doctors Without Borders - USA. https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/latest/our-response-israel-gaza-war
  4. ‌Health Ministry simplifying process for temporary medical licenses. The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com. Published October 13, 2023. Accessed October 16, 2023. https://www.jpost.com/health-and-wellness/article-768107
  5. ‌Israel-Gaza war live updates: Biden warns Israel against occupying Gaza; hospital fuel nearly gone, U.N. says. Washington Post. Published October 16, 2023. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/10/16/israel-war-news-hamas-gaza-palestine
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