Editor’s note: The post below was originally published by American Near East Refugee Aid. ANERA serves Palestinian refugees and poor communities in Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon, and is a partner of Direct Relief. The post appeared on ANERA’s site on Feb. 27, 2017.
At the age of 38, Hussein suffered his first heart attack. Since then, he has carried a pacemaker and has been taking medicines to survive.
Now a retired grandfather, he spent most of his life as a truck driver and a devoted father to his 11 children. Since financial means have always been limited for Hussein, he has relied on a charitable hospital in Hebron, West Bank for daily medication to keep his cholesterol levels in check.
ANERA delivers medicines to the hospital so that its shelves are always stocked. The medicines come as donations from various partner organizations. Direct Relief, one of ANERA’s partners, recently donated a cholesterol-lowering medication that is in very high demand in the area. Pravastatin is given to chronic disease patients entirely free-of-charge.
Donated Medicines are a Lifeline for West Bank Patients
The vast majority of the hospital’s patients are poverty-stricken, and would not be able to afford the medicine if it was not donated. The availability of an important medication like Pravastatin alleviates some of the financial burden that patients already cope with. Younger patients are especially affected, as they have families to support and usually on very low wages.
Dr. Abd Al-Wadood Abu-Haikal is the head of the Hebron hospital’s ICU. He has worked there for eight years, moving between the ICU and the cardiology and internal medicine departments. The young doctor is pleased with Direct Relief’s donation.
“The medication is really valuable to us, especially because it covers a range of different patients, including those who suffer heart attacks and strokes,” said Dr. Abu-Haikal. “It’s also given to diabetics as a preemptive measure — as they are also prone to heart problems — as well as kidney patients, high blood pressure patients and thyroid patients.”
In Hebron, Fatty Foods Contribute to Illnesses
Hussein has been recuperating from a recent cardiac catheterization after doctors discovered a partially clogged artery. Dr. Abu-Haikal checks up on him every day to monitor his recovery.
“The common lifestyle of a truck driver, especially in the West Bank, involves heavy smoking and the consumption of fatty fast food with low nutritional value,” explained the doctor. “These are some elements that eventually lead to coronary heart disease and heart attacks.” According to Dr. Haikal, 80 percent of older patients at the hospital rely on medications like Pravastatin, and it’s usually due to genetic and lifestyle-related factors.
Apart from genetics and family history, the doctor primarily blames the high-fat diet consumed by many people in the West Bank, and specifically in the city of Hebron, as well as bad eating habits. “In Hebron it’s all about meat, rice, bread and high-fat dairy products. People even retire to bed straight after dinner,” he said. “Generally speaking, we’re not a society that exercises. You don’t see people walking to work or jogging in the evening, or playing sports during the day.”
According to Dr. Abu-Haikal, most patients who are tested for cholesterol levels turn out to have high levels of “bad” cholesterol, and he finds it quite concerning. He suggests patients make a radical change in their lifestyle habits before resorting to chronic medication, urging them to watch what they eat and to exercise as much as possible.
Hussein Thrives as a Grandfather Thanks to Palestine Medical Relief
Despite Hussein’s health problems and limited financial resources, he has managed to raise well-educated children with university degrees and has lived to see some of his older grandchildren go to university.
“In Palestine, many chronic disease patients like Hussein don’t have access to free medication,” said ANERA In-kind Field Assistant Mohammad Atieh. “So they’re torn between treating their illnesses on the one hand and providing for their families on the other. These donated medicines have made it possible for people to continue working and take better care of their families.”