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After failing to find work, many Gazan medical professionals 'lease' their degrees to others

Haunted by a skyrocketing unemployment rate, medical graduates in the Gaza Strip are leasing their degrees to businessmen to make a living.
Palestinian doctors wear face masks at the reception of al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City December 6, 2009. H1N1 swine flu has finally reached the Gaza Strip, the health ministry said on Sunday, worrying Palestinians who had credited Israel's blockade of the territory with keeping the virus at bay. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem (GAZA POLITICS HEALTH) - RTXRJIC

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Escalating unemployment rates, poverty and the lack of job opportunities in the Gaza Strip are pushing college graduates with medical-related degrees to "lease" them to would-be business owners or investors.

Leasing the degrees, in fields such as optometry, laboratory medicine and pharmacology, provides income for graduates crippled by unemployment and those who don't have enough money to open their own medical facilities. There is a strong demand for these degrees among people seeking to invest in the medical field who don't have the necessary qualifications and certifications.

According to a statement issued by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in July, around 30,000 Palestinians graduate each year from Palestinian institutions of higher learning. The unemployment rate among university graduates who obtained a bachelor's degree in Gaza reached 69.5% in 2014.

Reham Ayman said her 2014 optometry degree from the Islamic University of Gaza proved worthless, except that she was able to lease it for 800 shekels ($210) a month.

“The lack of job opportunities in the public and private sectors, and not being able to open my own optical clinic for lack of sufficient capital, made my educational degree useless until my father told me I could lease it to an entrepreneur wishing to open an optical clinic. I refused at first, but I quickly changed my mind when the harsh reality hit me,” she told Al-Monitor.

Ayman said a number of her fellow graduates followed suit.

Lutfi al-Najjar, who obtained his laboratory medicine degree from Al-Azhar University in Gaza in 2013, was only able to overcome unemployment by working as a volunteer in a medical laboratory after leasing his degree to the owner of the lab.

Najjar told Al-Monitor, “When I graduated, the employment situation was unfavorable. An investor made me an attractive offer. He wanted to establish a fully equipped medical laboratory at his own expense but needed to rent my university degree to obtain a license. He offered me 650 shekels [$170] per month and a volunteer position.”

He added, “This was the best offer I got. The only other inevitable option was sitting at home without any income.”

Gh. R. graduated in pharmacy from Al-Azhar University in 2013. He leased his degree to a pharmacy owner in Gaza City to allow him to get a license to practice the profession. Gh. R. said he could not afford the estimated $30,000 it would have cost to open his own pharmacy.

“I had no other choice. When I realized that all doors for a career in this field seem to be shut, I decided to lease my university degree in return for 700 shekels [$180] a month to a pharmacy owner in Gaza to obtain a license,” Gh. R. told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity.

The pharmacy owner who used Gh. R.’s degree told Al-Monitor that his pharmacy, located in al-Saha area in central Gaza City, was founded by his father, who was a pharmacist. He said that he learned a lot about the profession before his father died in 2012, such as the names of medicines, the treatment of diseases and how to use syringes.

“I do not have a university degree, and the highest educational certificate I obtained is a high school diploma. Yet, I am very familiar with pharmacology since I worked with my father in his pharmacy for 13 years. When my father died, the license to operate this pharmacy registered in my father’s name was canceled and I was no longer able to work in it. This is why I used a university degree of a pharmacology graduate in return for a monthly compensation," he said.

Mouin Rajab, an economics professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, believes the practice of leasing degrees is a negative phenomenon generated by the dire economic conditions in the Gaza Strip.

Rajab told Al-Monitor, “The increase in medical specializations' tuition fees and the post-graduation employment stagnation ensuing from the Palestinian division led to a very unfortunate situation in Gaza. This pushed unemployed graduates to opt for illegal ways and means to secure a source of income or a job opportunity.”

A World Bank report issued March 21 indicates the unemployment rate in Gaza is the highest in the world; it reached 43% at the end of 2014.

Rajab said, “Investors are driven to invest their money in the medical field in light of massive losses affecting other sectors such as the industrial and agricultural sectors, as a result of the war and the Israeli siege.”

The practice substantially undermines the Palestinian health sector and the economy, he said, given the lack of government oversight.

University graduates remain notable victims of the economic deterioration in the Gaza Strip arising from the continued Israeli blockade, the Palestinian internal divide and the repeated Israeli wars on Gaza. On the other hand, government authorities or civil society institutions are unable to offer any solution to contain the worsening post-graduation unemployment crisis.

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