Mary Jane Cole travels to Gaza to provide specialist support to people injured during the crisis.

Mary Jane Cole, Senior lecturer, Rehabilitation Sciences (bottom left in picture) was a member of the first and third of three teams of rehabilitation specialists, including physiotherapists, occupational therapists and nurses, deployed to Gaza to support people injured during the recent conflict and provide training to local rehabilitation staff. Her clinical expertise is in amputee rehabilitation and she is also working with Handicap International to train therapists on the UK International Emergency Trauma Register (UKIETR).

Handicap International

Photo credit © Peter Skelton/Handicap International

Over 11,000 Palestinians were injured during the crisis and some specialist rehabilitation facilities in Gaza were damaged or destroyed. There is an urgent need for specialised training and equipment so that local staff can provide the best possible care to people with complex injuries including amputations, spinal cord injuries and fractures. This aftercare can be life-saving and is the key to helping those with significant injuries maximise their recovery, so that they can raise their families, work, or go back to school.

The teams, drawn mostly from the NHS, are members of the UK International Emergency Trauma Register (UKIETR) which trains British medical and health professionals to deploy to humanitarian emergencies.  Run by the charity UK-Med and funded by the Department for International Development, the Register is also supported by Handicap International and Save the Children. The deployment of rehabilitation experts to Gaza will not only have a long term impact on those they treat and train, but will also benefit their practice in the UK.

Peter Skelton, Handicap International rehabilitation project manager says, “This exciting collaboration between Handicap International and UK-Med in training rehabilitation staff on the Trauma Register means that we are building a team of experienced clinicians trained to a high standard who are able to provide specialised support to communities affected by emergencies. To have this capability in the UK builds on the incredible professionals the NHS has and enables us to support those people most in need, such as injured people in Gaza today.”

Rosalie Barrett, clinical lead physiotherapist at Hounslow and Richmond Community Healthcare NHS Trust, says, “Through our training with the trauma register we have a fantastic opportunity to use our professional skills and work alongside our colleagues on the ground in Gaza to provide training and rehabilitation for those who have been injured.”

Whilst in Gaza, the UK teams were embedded in Handicap International’s existing outreach teams, who have been working throughout the crisis to provide rehabilitation and other essential services to the most vulnerable people. The project is funded by the Department for International Development.

Mary Jane says “The opportunity to share my experience with colleagues in Gaza to benefit the injured has been amazing. To work alongside such dedicated and enthusiastic community based teams treating so many complex injuries with limited resources, seeing them grow in confidence and ability and their patients recover, has been a real privilege.”


Photo credit © Mary Jane Cole / Handicap International

“A Handicap International nurse trained by UK IETR staff treating Muhamed, a patient with an upper limb amputation, Gaza.

Even before the war Muhamed’s family were incredibly poor, sharing a ground floor room in an unfinished house. He worked as a farmer and as a part time taxi driver. He explained to us that while out working in the field he was caught in shelling, and lost his right arm. His left hand is also severely damaged and now infected. He continues to experience a huge amount of pain, but was still able to joke with our physiotherapist while they worked together to try to restore the movement in his hand.

Without the use of his hands though, he is not sure how we can support his family. Handicap International is providing him with essential rehabilitation care and cleaning and dressing his wounds. Once his arm is ready, he will be referred to a local centre for a prosthetic arm.”