The Herald (Zimbabwe)

How the war in Gaza is impacting Palestinia­ns’ health


MéDECINS Sans Frontières (MSF) teams have been responding to a growing humanitari­an catastroph­e in Gaza since the eruption of full-scale war between Israel and Hamas on 7 October.

Thousands have been killed and injured on both sides.

On 9 October, Israel announced a total siege on Gaza, blocking food, water, electricit­y, and fuel for all residents.

This is unconscion­able and amounts to the collective punishment of 2.2 million Palestinia­ns living in Gaza — nearly half of whom are children.

Civilians in Gaza are threatened by heavy aerial bombardmen­t and indiscrimi­nate attacks by the Israeli military. There have been at least 72 attacks on healthcare in Gaza, including facilities, ambulances, and medical staff.

MSF is calling for health workers and health facilities to be protected at all times, even in times of war. Hospitals should never be targeted.

Here are five ways the war is putting people’s lives and health at risk. ◆ Evacuation orders threaten the lives of the most vulnerable

Late on 2 October, the Israeli military began warning the one million residents of northern Gaza to evacuate and move to the southern part of the territory within 24 hours. On 13 October, Israel gave MSF-supported Al-Awda hospital just two hours to evacuate, followed by a temporary reprieve.

There is simply no way to safely evacuate patients from a hospital. Bed capacity in southern Gaza has only one-third the bed capacity of the hospitals in the north. There are not enough ambulances and roads are badly damaged.

These mass evacuation orders force sick and injured people — even those in critical condition — to risk their lives by either moving and fleeing south or by being left behind to face potential airstrikes; in either case to perhaps die without treatment. Many medical personnel also face impossible choices: whether to move south and seek shelter for themselves and their families, or stay behind to provide lifesaving care for their patients. ◆ Hospitals cannot run without fuel and electricit­y

Hospitals in Gaza have been relying on generators since Israel cut off the electrical supply as part of the total siege. Generators run on fuel, however, and fuel reserves at hospitals across Gaza are nearly depleted; none of the very limited supplies that have been allowed into Gaza so far have included fuel.

When backup generators shut down for lack of fuel, it will be death sentence thousands of patients whose survival depends on electricit­y.

This includes 130 premature babies who are dependent on incubators and those on life support or those receiving treatment for dialysis.

◆ People are suffering from lack of access to essential medicines The siege leaves no respite for patients in Gaza. In hospitals, medical teams are contending with limited supplies, equipment, and capacity even as more patients arrive following attacks.

At MSF-supported Al Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s main surgical facility, colleagues have reported a shortage of painkiller­s. Surgeons are operating on patients without sufficient anaesthesi­a. Pharmacies are running out of medicines. People with chronic illnesses could soon face life-threatenin­g complicati­ons as a result of the shortage of medical supplies.

On 18 October, MSF provided all the supplies — medicines and medical equipment — they had left in their stock to Al-Shifa hospital.

Medical supplies were already limited in Gaza before the start of the current conflict due to the years-long blockade.

◆ Hospitals and medical staff are overwhelme­d and barely functionin­g

Medical care in Gaza is at breaking point. Medical staff are exhausted, terrified, and feeling powerless, as there is little they can do for patients, especially with the lack of medicines.

Two-thirds of basic healthcare facilities, such as clinics, are no longer functional, as are 12 out of 35 hospitals.

The hospitals that are running are completely overwhelme­d. Al-Shifa hospital, Gaza’s main surgical hospital, where some of our Palestinia­n colleagues continue to work, has run out of space.

The hospital has a capacity to treat 700 patients and is currently treating some 5 000. Surgeons have been forced to amputate limbs as patients lie on the floor.

Sick people often cannot even reach hospitals because of the state of the roads or lack of ambulances, or deem it too unsafe to do so due to the airstrikes.

◆ Lack of clean water and overcrowde­d shelters increase the risk of disease

Access to clean water is now extremely scarce in Gaza, adding to people’s distress. People are at risk of dehydratio­n. Many are drinking salty or contaminat­ed water, which can make people sick.

The lack of access to clean water and damage to the water and sanitation infrastruc­ture heighten the risk of water-borne diseases, such as cholera and diarrhoea.

They also further complicate poor hygiene conditions in the makeshift and overcrowde­d shelters where many displaced people are living in close quarters since fleeing northern Gaza. These conditions create fertile ground for diseases to spread rapidly, including respirator­y tract infections.


Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Zimbabwe