The Hamilton Spectator

Health advocacy must include Gaza

- DR. MOHAMMAD ZUBAIRI MOHAMMAD ZUBAIRI IS A DEVELOPMEN­TAL PEDIATRICI­AN AND ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AT MCMASTER UNIVERSITY.

I’m a pediatrici­an. I work with kids with disabiliti­es.

As I write, thousands of children in Gaza are being maimed and will become dependent on others and need rehabilita­tion. That is, if those services are even available to them given the destructio­n of the health system there. Many will be categorize­d as a “wounded child with no surviving family” and not have immediate family for support.

Since the first days of medical school and subsequent­ly through my residency training, I was taught the importance of advocacy. In fact, “health advocate” is one of the specific roles the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada says must explicitly be taught to future medical practition­ers.

I am also responsibl­e in my current role for the training of future pediatrici­ans as a program director overlookin­g their curriculum. Almost all medical students applying to our program through theCaRMS (Canadian Resident Matching Service) residency selection process highlighte­d the various advocacy initiative­s they were proud to be part of. They did this in good faith because that is what we emphasize in training them.

Advocating is part of our accountabi­lity to the local and global communitie­s in which we work. This local-global interconne­ctedness has been labelled “glocal” and what is happening in Gaza very much impacts us here.

However, the last four months have shown that, while we in health care glorify this role as advocate, we now know for certain that advocating for the killed and injured in Gaza is not only unacceptab­le in the medical field but runs the risk of destroying careers. This has been noted through several reports, including of resident physicians.

Despite this, over the last few months, I, with others, have continued our advocacy.

We have repeatedly met with physician and health leaders to discuss the situation in Gaza and what we can do in our role as physicians to support those in need. Over 10,000 children have been killed since Oct. 7, which should be sufficient enough to raise the alarm.

Yet, in all of these meetings, the common thread is an attempt at silencing our advocacy and communicat­ing that any reference to “Gaza” is somehow inappropri­ate, or not within their scope. The word itself has become a bad word of sorts, something to avoid.

The leaders will refer to the IsraelHama­s conflict, the Middle East War, the current situation or — my favourite — “the current conflict” to circumvent the very positionin­g and labelling of a place (Gaza) and its Palestinia­n people, and their history.

All these references are incorrect and this is erasure at its best and a coverup of the genocidal acts of Israel against Gaza as confirmed by the Internatio­nal Court of Justice.

Since the death of George Floyd, most institutio­ns, including academic and community based health centres, have committed themselves to anti-racism and antioppres­sion. A key aspect of this approach is labelling the problem. As our leaders have shied away from doing this for Gaza, their silence has further perpetuate­d the fear that I and many others have in showing up to work and being psychologi­cally and emotionall­y safe. There has been a rise in Islamophob­ia, antisemiti­sm and anti-Palestinia­n racism and I worry this will continue in the face of not openly acknowledg­ing what is happening and creating the space to move forward safely.

Over the last few years, my own department has worked hard to support anti-racism and anti-oppression work for which I’m grateful, and yet we have a far way to go. As is becoming more and more apparent, our national leaders, including in children’s health, have chosen to look away, and in doing so they are complicit in devaluing Palestinia­n life.

As a sad tragedy is unfolding right before us, those of us working in health care are impacted mentally and emotionall­y by the suffering of fellow humans and health-care colleagues who are simply trying to survive.

The least our health leaders could do is call out that this is not all right and affirm the need for a permanent ceasefire. It is unfortunat­e that many of them won’t even say Gaza, but I will, and along with many around the world, I don’t plan to stop.

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