An Airdrie, Alta., family doctor has been spending much of the past six weeks worrying about patients and colleagues in Gaza.
“Never in my life have I seen the utter disregard the world has shown to my medical profession colleagues,” Dr. Fozia Alvi said.
Alvi has been doing humanitarian work for years and founded Humanity Auxilium, a charitable organization dedicated to serving people in need around the world.
She said she’s receiving messages from her team in Gaza about the lack of water, fuel and medical supplies.
“Doctors are sending SOS messages for the last five weeks saying stop bombing our hospitals,” Alvi said.
She said the death of the only nephrologist in the Gaza Strip is a horrific reminder of the dangers medical professionals are facing in Gaza. Nephrologists are doctors who specialize in the care of kidneys.
“One of my friends in Toronto was crying the other day. He said Dr. Hamam Allouh refused to leave the hospital just out of responsibility to care for his patients who cannot be moved, and he was killed,” Alvi said.
She’s disheartened by what she calls the lack of response from public health institutions.
Last week she sent a letter to the department head of family medicine at University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine outlining her concerns.
The department head declined an interview request from Global News. Alvi said Dr. Sonya Lee, department head at the Cumming School of Medicine, did respond to her letter and they are planning to meet.
“I want the universities and the public health-care institutions to speak about about what is happening against health-care professionals, because I think it’s a crime against my profession,” Alvi said.
“I was feeling heartbroken by the deafening silence of the public health-care institutions. Why are we so quiet? As a medical professional, it’s my responsibility to speak out. It’s our collective responsibility to speak out about these crimes on our profession, on our shared humanity, that we vowed to serve. I feel our department is very quiet.”
On Friday afternoon, Dr. Todd Anderson, the dean of the Cumming School of Medicine, sent a letter to the school recognizing the Middle East conflict is weighing heavily on the school community. It recognized the increase in Islamophobic and antisemitic rhetoric nationwide, and encouraged a “professional and thoughtful discourse that is inclusive of all perspectives.”
Alvi wants the university to explore options for fundraising or partnerships with international aid organizations, and to consider remote learning or mentorship programs to support medical students in Gaza.
On Wednesday she had a meeting with family medicine residents and brought up how the war is impacting their mental health.
Ayesha Kashif said it’s been heart-wrenching to follow what has been happening at hospitals in Gaza.
“I was crying on my way home and it’s quite distressing because what can you do?” Kashif said. “The only source of aid is now being destroyed. It’s this human tragedy that’s unfolding, especially around the hospitals.
“As people who in the future would like to participate in aid work, it’s devastating to see the disregard for the preservation of the Palestinian people’s right to health.”
Sana Jawad, another resident physician at the medical school, said it’s distressing being someone who’s trying to practice medicine with the ongoing humanitarian crisis.
“I’ve graduated from the University of Calgary medical school and now I’m a resident physician, and throughout medical school we’ve always been taught advocacy,” Jawad said. “But in this situation where health-care workers are being targeted and people are passing away, it’s sad that there is not as strong statement of support as there should be from the medical community.
“It shouldn’t be controversial or political. It should be an issue of basic humanity to say that it is wrong to be targeting hospitals.”
Israeli troops have been searching Gaza’s biggest hospital, Shifa, for traces of a Hamas command center Israel alleges was located under the building — a claim Hamas and the hospital staff deny.
The medical students at the Cumming School of Medicine are putting a petition together to ask the school to address the stress the students are facing from the Middle East conflict.
“There has been some initial fear in terms of being able to discuss the impact this is having on our mental health and I think it’s actually been nice to see the amount of people who are courageous enough to speak about this,” Kashif said.
Alvi hopes to work with colleagues with Doctors Worldwide to build a field hospital in Gaza.
“I hope to give a hand to my exhausted colleagues. If I could not do anything and the hospitals are not working, I will just work as a labourer,” Alvi said.
Médecins Sans Frontières, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have all demanded an immediate ceasefire and condemned the bombing of hospitals.
–with files from The Associated Press