The Israeli blockade in place since 2007 makes it extremely difficult for anyone to leave the Gaza Strip, so Palestinian health professionals have not been able to go abroad for training and to update their knowledge and skills. One of the objectives of MSF's programme in Gaza is therefore to transfer competencies from our specialised expatriate teams to the local medical teams. And this is why Sylvia, cardiac and respiratory physiotherapist, has just spent a month and half in Gaza.
"My name is Silvia Helena Cesar Thomaz de Aquino. I'm Brazilian and I'm a cardiac and respiratory physiotherapist. I've been working at the Sao Paulo hospital in Brazil for the last twelve years.
I qualified in 1998 and a year later, in 1999, MSF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This is what brought the organisation to my attention and made me want to work for it. I think NGOS offer a future to those who find themselves put aside in some way, ostracised by a society that's becoming more and more standardised.
In July 2010, I went to Haiti with MSF as a generalist physiotherapist – that was my first posting.
And a month and a half ago, I went to the Gaza Strip to provide ten Palestinian hospital therapists with training in cardiac and respiratory physiotherapy.
The Gazan health authorities have just launched a heart surgery programme. This speciality has not been available in Gaza until now and the medical personnel have not been trained and have no experience of providing the post-operative care and follow up that is essential and very specific to this type of specialised surgery. Without the appropriate postoperative and rehabilitation care, a patient who has undergone heart surgery will not be able to return to a normal life, to his or her daily routine. Nor will it be possible to avoid the risks factors that could lead to a relapse; without the right help and support the patient could suffer another cardiac incident.
So I tried to share my expertise with the physiotherapists in Gaza. They were very interested in the training: they were keen to know more and eager for any opportunity to learn and improve their knowledge so they could help their patients recover. They are looking to change things and were obviously really committed to this training, revising in the evening and coming back with questions the next day.
The different training activities that are part of this medical project which offers free care to patients needing plastic surgery and post-acute care make it quite an unusual mission for MSF. I think that what the healthcare personnel over there need most of all is to learn more to improve their competencies still further. This type of training is of potential benefit to the whole population. At MSF, we have the expertise in the areas they most need – so, why not allow them to benefit from it?
The people I met in Gaza, whether working for MSF or in the hospitals and public health facilities, are dedicated and committed, open-minded, motivated and ready to learn. I found them to be very supportive of each other, especially in difficult situations. They give new meaning to the word "network": "If I know how, I'll teach you, and then together we'll teach the others and we'll all progress".