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Kurdish babies’ lives hang in balance as Israeli red tape blocks their last hope

03/22/2021 06:42:10 PM

Mar22

LAZAR BERMAN

Doctors near Tel Aviv are ready to operate, but a hellish bureaucratic mess between government bodies means sick children are being kept from surgery that can save their lives. 

Three weeks ago, doctors at Sheba Hospital near Tel Aviv told the family of newborn Hena that she must have emergency surgery within two weeks or they risk losing her.

Though they had never seen her, physicians at Sheba were prepared to treat Hena, who was born on January 21 in Iraqi Kurdistan with numerous health complications, including pulmonary atresia, in which a heart defect makes it difficult for blood to reach the lungs to pick up oxygen and puts her at immediate risk.

But for Hena to make it to the hospital for a life-saving operation, she must pass through a daunting gauntlet of Israeli bureaucracy coupled with special coronavirus restrictions, leaving her and other children seeking life-saving treatment in turbid limbo.

“These are really hard days for me — when I look at my sick daughter and I can’t do anything for her,” Hena’s father told The Times of Israel from a refugee camp near Duhok, Iraq. “We were told that we had to take her outside of the country, and it’s hard to travel, especially to Israel.”

Hena is one of nine babies from Iraqi Kurdistan to have had their applications to enter Israel for emergency heart surgery rejected in the past two weeks, as Israel’s bureaucracy bounces their applications between government offices. Four of the children suffer from transposition of the great arteries, a fatal syndrome in which the main arteries carrying blood from the heart are reversed. The condition can be corrected with a surgery performed on infants in the first two months of life.

A Kurdish academic battling Stage IV liver cancer has also been turned down.

“They have no other options but Israel,” said Jonathan Miles, the founder of Shevet Achim, a Christian aid organization that brings children from neighboring Arab countries to Israel for medical treatment.

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