Sting like a bee: Alternative therapy in Gaza

Rateb Samour sees 250 patients a day whose complaints range from hair loss to cerebral palsy and cancer. But he is not a doctor and has never worked in a hospital.

Samour inherited the skill of bee-sting therapy from his father, who used to raise bees. Then in 2003, the agricultural engineer started to dedicate all his time to studying and developing the alternative medicine treatment of apitherapy, which uses all bee-related products, including honey, propolis - or bee glue used to build hives - and venom.

"I am treating serious and chronic diseases which have no cure in regular medicine, I have achieved excellent results," said Samour, an Egyptian-educated specialist in entomology and bees in the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian enclave.

"We speak about chondritis in the neck and spine, migraine, loss of hair, alopecia areata, skin diseases, cerebral palsy, autism and cancer," he said inside an apartment packed with patients on the edge of a beach refugee camp in Gaza City.

The 58-year-old Palestinian said he makes bees sting patients at certain points in their bodies that he has carefully studied. A bee dies after being made to sting.

"I have been subjected to doubts, but bee-sting therapy has proven itself as an excellent alternative medicine," he told Reuters. "Some doctors, who value the apitherapy for certain illnesses, are among my patients."

The Islamist-ruled Gaza is under blockade by neighbouring Egypt and Israel, which restricts the movement of goods and people in and out of the territory. So Gaza lacks sophisticated medical equipment and has patchy access to medicines.

Seriously ill patients must travel to Israel, Egypt or beyond for specialist medical treatment.

Inside Samour's home, men and women wait their turn in separate rooms.

Alya Al-Ghafari, 10, has been suffering from facial palsy for over two years. Mainstream medicine was both expensive and less efficient than apitherapy, according to her father.

"Treatment by bee stings has been more effective than treatment by regular medicine but you need to be patient," said Saeed Al-Ghafari, a government employee. His daughter has been receiving treatment from Samour for nearly nine months.

"At the beginning my daughter felt pain but as time passed Alya felt she became better," said Ghafari. "Her face has become better and now she is the one who reminds us of the therapy sessions."

Muneera Al-Baba said her son Anas, who suffers from cerebral palsy, has made much more progress in a year and a half than he ever did using mainstream medicine, which also cost twice as much.

"Communication between me and him was disconnected," the 44-year-old mother told Reuters. "He lived in a world of his own, now he responds to me."