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On the verge of collapse – the healthcare disaster in Gaza

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With 1.8 million people displaced, a damaged healthcare system and health-threatening shelters where disease spreads, Gaza is facing imminent collapse. Our partner Palestinian Medical Relief Society gives a dark report from the war.

On December 11, our partner organization the Palestinian Medical Relief Society published a letter signed by their director Dr. Aed Yaghi. We have chosen to publish parts of the letter to give an eyewitness account from inside Gaza:

“On December 11, the Ministry of Health in Gaza stated that Israel’s bombings have resulted in the loss of more than 18,205 Palestinians. More than 49,645 have been injured, 70 percent of them children and women, and thousands are still under the rubble.

The Israeli offensive has included attacks on residential areas, prompting 1.8 million Palestinians to flee to seek refuge in the southern areas.

Children suffer the most. Terrified and displaced, they must try to cope with a new reality. Many children have lost their homes and schools while grieving the loss of family members and classmates. The scale of the disaster is unbearable. […]

The war has caused massive damage to infrastructure: schools, kindergartens, mosques, churches, hospitals, health centers and shelters, including UN shelters, have been destroyed. Entire neighborhoods have been reduced to rubble and more than 60 percent of all homes in Gaza have been destroyed.

People are looking for safe places but there are none, so they keep moving from one place to another. Displaced Gazans seek shelter in shelters or at the homes of family members and friends.

Damage to the healthcare infrastructure

The health care sector is on the verge of collapse, unable to cope with the soaring number of casualties and deaths. The war has caused serious damage to the healthcare infrastructure: 296 healthcare workers have been killed, 137 health facilities including 24 hospitals have been damaged and 59 ambulances have been partially or fully damaged at the time of writing.

A total of 14 hospitals out of 36 are still partially functioning and the remaining are out of service due to the direct or indirect Israeli attacks or due to lack of fuel. […]

However, the functioning hospitals lack the capacity to treat all who seek help, and medical teams treat the wounded with very limited capacity. The medical teams are tired and exhausted as they have been working non-stop since October 7.

Hospital bed occupancy has reached more than 274 percent and intensive care bed occupancy has reached 227 percent. Planned surgeries and non-urgent routine medical procedures have been delayed or cancelled. Patients with chronic diseases have had their treatments interrupted.

Less than 30 percent of patients with kidney failure (326 out of 1,100) have access to dialysis and no information is available on the rest of the patients.

[…]

The situation in the shelters

The official shelters are cramped […] and lack the capacity to accommodate the huge number of people who are fleeing. The shelters lack sanitation facilities and clean water, and people who are on the run are exposed to life-threatening conditions here.

We as healthcare professionals have warned many times and for weeks about the risk of infectious diseases starting to spread among the people who take refuge in the shelters.

Today, the health situation in the shelters is dangerous. Our medical teams have recorded the spread of diarrhea among children, a three-fold increase in acute respiratory infections, a four-fold increase in skin diseases and hygiene-related conditions such as lice infections, and the registration of some cases of hepatitis. Malnutrition is a major problem for children, as many only eat one meal a day, and many less than that.

[…]

We feel strong concern for the most vulnerable groups who are now living in extremely difficult conditions, such as people with disabilities, pregnant or breastfeeding women, people recovering from injuries or operations, and those with weakened immune systems.

All this will lead to a public health disaster if the international community does not take urgent action […].”

Text: Dr. Aed Yaghi adapted by Malin Kihlström

By: Malin Kihlström