​Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon has lauded Melbourne-based Anglican Overseas Aid’s support for a free program in the Palestinian territories to detect breast cancer among women there.

Senator Rhiannon told the Senate on 26 February that she visited Al Ahli Arab Hospital, the only Christian hospital in Gaza, on her final day in Gaza the previous month and expressed gratitude to the director, Suhaila Tarazi, for the thorough briefing she provided.

“Al Ahli Arab Hospital runs a free-of-charge program for early detection of breast cancer among women above 40 years of age,” the NSW Senator said. “I have spoken about this program before in the Senate. We have passed a cross-party motion in support of this program. I congratulate Anglicord (now AOA) for this work.

“Breast cancer is one of the biggest killers of women in the Gaza Strip. In Australia, a woman who is treated for breast cancer has an 80 per cent survival rate at five years. For a woman in Gaza, it is 40 per cent. To receive the necessary treatment women with breast cancer must leave Gaza. Palestinians can only leave if the Israeli authorities agree. Many women are not given permission to travel.”

Senator Rhiannon said in her few days in Gaza after spending time on the West Bank, she saw “the enormous resilience of people and the very finest of efforts to build a future in the face of extreme adversity”.
“However, the day-to-day reality is harsh. The level of humanitarian assistance in Gaza is massive: 80 per cent of the population are dependent on international assistance. Three out of four Gazans are refugees and the majority are children and young people.

“I do note that it is vital that the Australian Government speaks up to protect aid projects in Palestine. But sustainable development in this region will not be achieved by foreign assistance alone. Key multilateral bodies — the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development — have identified that it is the conditions of the (Israeli) occupation that are impeding any prospects of sustainable economic growth in the occupied Palestinian territory.”

In October 2011, Senators Rhiannon, Michaelia Cash (Liberal, Western Australia) and Claire Moore (Labor, Queensland) proposed a successful motion to the Senate that congratulated AOA, then known as Anglicord, for its efforts to highlight that breast cancer is one of the major causes of death for women in the Gaza Strip, and called on all members of the Senate to support the “Women Die Waiting” campaign to raise enough funds to provide 2000 Gazan women annually with breast cancer screening.

At the time, AOA said more than 60% of breast cancers in Gaza were detected too late for surgery to be effective, while chemotherapy was unreliable in Gaza and radiotherapy was not available at all. So women had to travel outside Gaza for appropriate treatment but this required waiting for travel approval from doctors, approval from the Treatment Abroad System, a financial assessment and then for a permit from the Israeli Defence Force. This process could take up to six months and some women never received approvals at all.

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