The health system in Gaza is deteriorating, prompting UN agencies to reiterate their call for a ceasefire.
Sean Casey, an Emergency Officer for the World Health Organization, recently returned from a visit lasting over five weeks to the conflict-ridden area. He reported that convoys have encountered challenges with access, security, and movement restrictions.
During my final week in Gaza, my team and I made daily attempts for seven consecutive days to transport fuel and resources to the north, specifically Gaza City. Despite our efforts, our requests for coordinated movement were consistently rejected, as stated by the speaker during a press conference in New York.
Suffering and desperation
After over three months of conflict, only about 16 out of 36 hospitals in Gaza are operating at a minimal or partial level.
Hospitals are crammed with thousands of patients and people escaping fighting which has displaced nearly 85 per cent of the population, 1.9 million people. Many of Gaza’s 25,000 health professionals are among those uprooted, making it difficult for them to get to work.
Mr. Casey stated that he witnessed individuals with serious burns and exposed fractures in hospitals on a daily basis, enduring lengthy waits for treatment. These patients would frequently request nourishment or hydration, highlighting the extreme desperation they were experiencing.
He stated that while it is important to prioritize the availability of medical personnel and resources, the top priority should be achieving a ceasefire since addressing needs on a daily basis is not a long-term solution.
Overstretched and under-resourced
Mr. Casey visited six hospitals including Al-Shifa in Gaza City, located in the north.
The biggest hospital in Gaza, which has over 700 beds, is currently functioning as an emergency room. It is overwhelmed with critically wounded patients and only has a small team of five or six medical staff. Additionally, there are tens of thousands of displaced individuals who are living in unorthodox spaces such as operating theatres, corridors, and stairwells.
At the hospital in the northern region of Al-Ahli, the author observed individuals who were “reclining on benches in a church-like manner, essentially awaiting their deaths, in a facility lacking fuel, electricity, and water; with minimal medical resources and a limited number of remaining personnel to attend to them.”
Last week, in Khan Younis at Nasser Medical Complex, only 30% of the staff were still working due to the high number of patients. One doctor was responsible for 100 patients in the burn unit.
Delivery requests denied
Mr. Casey stated that WHO is actively seeking to gather more surgeons, doctors, and nurses in Gaza and set up makeshift hospitals.
The goal is to replenish health workers who have been displaced and to address the greater demand for care, caused by injuries or poor living conditions that have heightened the risk of infectious diseases.
The head of UNRWA makes a fresh plea for a ceasefire.
The leader of the United Nations organization that aids Palestinians, UNRWA, reiterated his plea for a prompt humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza on Wednesday after his fourth visit to the region since the beginning of the conflict on October 7th.
Philippe Lazzarini stated that this situation has persisted for an extended period and it has no positive outcomes. It only leads to continuous turmoil and increasing hopelessness.
Fear, death and trauma
He emphasized the conditions in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, which serves as the main entry point for aid to reach the enclave. The population in this area has increased by nearly four times, currently reaching over 1.2 million people.
“He observed that makeshift shelters made of plastic sheets have sprouted up in various locations, even on the streets, as individuals attempt to shield themselves from the rain. These temporary structures are accommodating as many as 20 individuals.”
During my interactions, each person I encountered had their own tale of fear, mortality, grief, and anguish to convey. In the span of 100 days, the community in Gaza has transitioned from the initial shock of losing everything, including some losing all their family members, to a difficult battle to survive and safeguard their beloved. The speaker expressed this sentiment.
Mr. Lazzarini visited an UNRWA school in Deir al-Balah that is now a shelter, where “the overcrowding was claustrophobic, and the filthiness was striking.” Women told him of how they went without food and water to avoid having to use the unsanitary toilets.
Commodity prices rising
He highlighted the impact of limited entry of commercial products to Gaza, leading to a significant inflation of up to 10 times for essential goods. This has resulted in inadequate access to medication for individuals with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
The speaker stated that individuals are unable to maintain cleanliness due to limited access to washing facilities. Prolonged and frequent disruptions in communication, such as internet and cell phone outages, also contribute to their difficulty as they feel isolated from the outside world. The speaker emphasized that the blockade has resulted in the deaths of many, despite not being recognized as a direct cause of death.
Northern Gaza restricted
At present, there is limited knowledge available about the northern region of Gaza due to strict limitations on entry. According to Mr. Lazzarini, he was denied access to the area and UNRWA vehicles and aid shipments are frequently held up for hours at the checkpoint.
According to the speaker, there are numerous individuals who are in dire need and are coming directly to our trucks in order to get food. They are not waiting for the official distribution process. Due to delays from Israeli authorities, the trucks have already been nearly emptied by the time they are allowed to cross.
Mr. Lazzarini acknowledged that the ongoing conflict has affected UNRWA employees, but they continue to work tirelessly. However, he expressed concern that he cannot guarantee their safety, as well as the safety of their families and UN facilities.
“I am once again urging for an urgent humanitarian ceasefire in order to provide some relief and facilitate a much-needed and substantial increase in the supply of essential goods, potentially through commercial channels,” he stated. “Failing to do so will only prolong the suffering of an entire population.”