Main NewsOpinions

Gaza’s battle for survival in a shattered health system

By : Najla M. Shahwan

Jordan Daily – The World Health Organization ( WHO) on June 28 welcomed news of the evacuation of 21 cancer-stricken children but noted “more than 10,000 patients still require medical care outside the Strip.”

“Of the 13,872 people who have applied for medical evacuation since 7 October, only 35 percent have been evacuated,” Hanan Balkhy, regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said in a post on X.

“Medical evacuation corridors must be urgently established for the sustained, organized, safe, and timely passage of critically ill patients from Gaza via all possible routes.”

Israel’s war on Gaza has killed more than 37,834 Palestinians and wounded 86,858 others, the majority have been women and children.

Gaza, with a population of 2.3 million Palestinians, has suffered the consequences of the Israeli attacks on its health systems over the last nine months.

Since October 7th, Israeli forces have systematically degraded Gaza’s health infrastructure , limiting access to healthcare for the sick, injured, and displaced population. 

Only a few hospitals and health centers remained operational, and these also are facing  shortages of medical staff, medical supplies , fuel , and electricity and might close any minute.

At present, there are 17 partially operational hospitals across the Gaza Strip and the health system in Gaza has lost 70 per cent of its bed capacity, according to the Ministry of Health (MoH).

However, although Makeshift hospitals have been set up in the enclave since the outbreak of the war, but they have been struggling to cope as Israel expands its military operations in both southern and northern Gaza while preventing aid from entering the enclave.

Israel’s ‘closure of the  Rafah border crossing has cut off Gazans from food, fuel , aid and prevented injured and sick Gazans in dire need of medical assistance from receiving treatment abroad.

The Israeli assaults have also resulted in significant casualties among healthcare personnel and civilians seeking refuge in medical facilities.

The UN Human Rights Office reported the killing of 500 health workers in Gaza since 7 October 2023.

The tightened siege, indiscriminate bombardment, and ground invasion have allowed only very minimal and unreliable access to healthcare facilities and supplies.

Combined with a shortage of food, water, and energy, the elimination of most healthcare services has endangered the lives of virtually everyone in Gaza, particularly patients with ongoing treatments that abruptly stopped with the onset of war.

The conflict has displaced over 1.7 million civilians, pushing 1.5 million into congested areas with limited access to clean water and sanitation, leading to widespread infectious diseases.

Besides, the war has placed Palestinians living with chronic diseases  in an even more vulnerable position, including more than 342,100 patients with non-contagious diseases, around 485,000 people with mental health disorders, and more than 2,000 cancer patients.

These patients were forcibly displaced without their medication or access to healthcare services amid harsh weather conditions and bombardment.

On its part , the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned that it has seen a rise in communicable diseases ’’ which could lead to potential outbreaks”, as well as complications from treatable illnesses.

“Amputations are common, as well as acute respiratory infection, gastrointestinal illness and skin diseases which are spreading rapidly through displaced communities due to a lack of clean water, sanitation and access to food,” the ICRC said.

Additionally , the war significantly affected women’s health as more than fifty thousand pregnant women in Gaza are malnourished and prone to disease. Twenty thousand infants have been born into the ravages of the war, with an average of 183 children born daily — most in unhygienic conditions and makeshift tents without access to medical supplies or healthcare.

However, an  estimated 1 million   children — virtually every child in Gaza — require psychological and social support.

A Turkish surgeon who volunteered to serve Palestinians in Gaza has described the horrifying health care situation in the besieged enclave.

Speaking on June 7 at a conference at Turgut Ozal University in Türkiye’s eastern province of Malatya, Pediatric Surgeon Dr. Taner Kamaci described the very precarious health care situation in Gaza, where he worked as a volunteer, saying the lack of medical supplies in Palestine is at alarming levels, with doctors sometimes forced to stitch injured people’s wounds standing up and without anesthesia.

Kamaci, who spent two weeks in the besieged enclave amid constant Israeli bombardment, said the Gaza Strip has been under blockade for years, with the city under constant attack for the last more than eight months, and that during his visit, he could only treat emergency patients, not those who needed long-term treatment for their ailments.

“There were so many emergency patients that there was no time to treat other patients,” he said.

“The stitching was done standing up in the emergency room. Sometimes, if the suture material was problematic, it was covered with a bandage to ensure that there was enough material for seriously ill patients. We did our best for two weeks. As a team, we performed surgeries on nearly 400 patients,” he added.

There are normally 35 hospitals in Gaza, but only four were operational during their visit, with surgery could only be performed in two hospitals, Kamaci said, adding that the Gaza European Hospital was the only hospital left standing in Rafah, which was also the target of Israeli attacks.

The situation in Gaza is dire, with its healthcare system collapsing due to the ongoing repeated Israeli attacks for nearly nine months on medical facilities, personnel, and transport. Urgent international action is required to address this crisis, investigate potential war crimes, and protect the civilian population in Gaza.

The health situation in the Strip has reached a critical grave juncture that demands swift international intervention.

International health care and human rights organizations reiterate their calls for the protection of medical facilities under international humanitarian law.

“.. No patient should be killed while lying in a hospital bed. No doctors, nurses, or any medical professionals should ever die while working to save lives”, the ICRC said.

Najla M. Shahwan is Palestinian author, researcher and freelance journalist. Author of 13 books in literature and a children story collection .She is also Chairwoman of the Palestinian Center for Children’s Literature ( PCCL ) , founder of Jana Woman Cultural Magazine and Recipient of two prizes from the Palestinian Union of Writers.

Back to top button