The Lancet obituary for Maisara Azmi AlRayyes

Physician specialising in women’s and children’s health. Born on Jan 31, 1995, in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, he was killed on Nov 5, 2023, in Gaza City, aged 28 years.

Published:February 03, 2024 DOI:

When Maisara Azmi AlRayyes signed up with Médecins du Monde, the international humanitarian organisation, to help prepare primary health care clinics in Gaza, occupied Palestinian territories, to operate as trauma care centres, he decided he needed advanced trauma life-support training to excel in the role. It was a measure of his determination and perseverance that AlRayyes completed the two-part qualification, even though it involved a cumbersome process of getting permission to go to the West Bank for the first section and then travelling to Jordan to finish the second. “He was not just sitting relaxed, thinking I have the needed skills to do the job”, said his former medical school classmate Anas Ismail. “He took two major steps to prepare himself as best he could to help the people of Gaza.” But once he identified a need, AlRayyes could not be deterred. His ultimate mission, Ismail said, “was to advance women’s and children’s health in the community in Gaza”. With his death, “we have lost a fantastic doctor who could have changed the whole situation for children’s and women’s health in Gaza”, said Osaid Alser, who knew AlRayyes when he was a medical student and is now a General Surgery Resident at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, TX, USA.

AlRayyes was an exceptional student who finished near the top of his secondary school class. “You can only enter medical school if you get the highest grades and he was so brilliant he could have gone to any school that he wanted”, Ismail said. AlRayyes joined Al-Quds University, Gaza, to study medicine. During his time in medical school, he was President of the Palestinian chapter of the International Federation of Medical Students Associations. Through the organisation “he was doing a lot of advocacy work, supporting orphans in Gaza, a lot of missions to visit nursing homes. And also they were working on sending medical students from Gaza and the West Bank to go abroad to do their elective internships”, Alser said. AlRayyes graduated with honours in 2018, as the Great March of Return was taking place, a series of weekly demonstrations demanding the end of the Israeli blockade of the occupied Palestinian territories and the right for refugees to return to their traditional homes. AlRayyes volunteered to treat demonstrators who were wounded during the demonstrations. “He was among the volunteers at the tents to provide health services, despite the fact that the medics in these tents were also often injured. But he wasn’t afraid”, said Bahzad Alakhras, a physician and psychiatrist at Gaza Community Mental Health Programme.

After a year-long internship rotating between some hospitals in Gaza, AlRayyes was selected for a 2019 Chevening Scholarship to attend King’s College London (KCL), London, UK, to pursue a master of science degree in women’s and children’s health. “He saw how much is needed in terms of advancing women’s health in the community in Gaza and one of his goals was to become an obstetrics and gynaecology specialist”, Ismail said. Kim Jonas, Senior Lecturer in Reproductive Physiology in the Department of Women and Children’s Health at KCL, assessed AlRayyes’ application, and said “his passion for wanting to improve the health systems, particularly in his local community for women and babies was clear. He absolutely was destined to be a leader in the field”. After completing his master’s degree, Ismail said “the doors of the west kind of opened up to him”. But while many doctors in a similar position “wouldn’t go back to Gaza because of the situation and the conditions”, AlRayyes decided to return. “He knew his skills were needed, his knowledge was needed there”, Ismail said.

AlRayyes was working with Médecins du Monde to conduct the trainings in primary care facilities when Israel invaded Gaza after Hamas’ Oct 7, 2023 attack. “I like to think that some of the work he did helped in the initial response, preparing the workers to respond to trauma cases”, Ismail said. AlRayyes was killed in an Israeli air strike, as were his father and two brothers. AlRayyes is survived by his wife, Laura Hayek, and sister, Fatima. “He was a leader of his generation”, Ismail said. “And if he had lived, we would have seen so many more examples of his leadership.”