As military operations intensify in Israel, a healthcare crisis is quickly unfolding for the residents of Gaza. Since conflict resumed on 1 December, following a seven-day truce, there have been further casualties in the Gaza Strip with now a total of 18,608 fatalities, 50,594 injuries, and many more reported missing or under rubble. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 1.93 million people - 85% of the population in Gaza - have been displaced.
Civilians fleeing heavy bombardment in the North have ended up in temporary camps - tents, schools, and abandoned buildings. These spaces are overcrowded with no running water, electricity, or sanitation and little access to food and fuel. As winter approaches, reduced daylight, low temperatures, and heavy rain will leave civilians facing even harsher living conditions. Strong winds and flooding have already caused waste spillage into the streets which contaminate the few available supplies. When the quality and availability of water diminishes, waterborne diseases like typhoid and cholera can quickly spread, posing an imminent risk of outbreak.
A recent situation report from WHO includes data from syndromic surveillance which shows a rise in diarrhoea (with 48,698 cases in children under 5) and acute respiratory infections (with 129,230 cases). There are also incidents of skin rashes, scabies, lice, chickenpox, and jaundice. According to Dr Ahmed Al-Farra, Head of Paediatrics at Nasser Hospital in southern Gaza, there has been a rise in Hepatitis A. The disease has a three-week to one-month incubation period, after which, he states: “there will be an explosion in the number of cases”.
With few available toilets, washing facilities, and laundering services, open defecation has also been observed at shelters. Among the worst affected are women, particularly those menstruating and the 52,000 who are pregnant. The UNRWA has developed a rapid gender analysis to gather more evidence. A displaced female in an emergency shelter said, “It’s very difficult to manage my menstruation in these conditions, I can smell myself and I am avoiding being close to people”. This research also found that overcrowded shelters meant that women and girls had little privacy to bathe and change clothing.
Others susceptible to illness include children and babies. A study by The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine predicts children will be exposed to higher transmissions of pneumonia and bacterial diseases unless access to sufficient healthcare quickly improves. Around 70% of the total death toll are women and children.
Those with disabilities and pre-existing conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes are also at great risk. Additionally, untreated wounds from bombardment can result in infection. Given the collapse of systems, it’s worth noting that WHO has stated the figures are likely incomplete. Additionally, surveillance efforts from detection to laboratory response have been disrupted.
The situation report also highlights damage caused to vital infrastructure and public services. Of the 36 hospitals in the Gaza Strip, 11 are partially functioning and 3 are operating at extremely limited capacity. The remaining are closed. There have been shortages in medicines including painkillers, insulin, and antibiotics; and supplies of IV fluids, anesthetics, and blood. Critical equipment like monitors, ventilators, and incubators need to be fixed. Worse still, functioning hospitals are operating beyond capacity, with some taking on two to three times more patients than intended. Bed availability is also limited so many have had to receive treatment on the floor.
The Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis has seen an influx of people seeking treatment and shelter. For many, hospitals provide healthcare and serve as a place of refuge. Yet, there’s a shortage of available medical staff who are tired and overstretched. Many are deployed on the frontlines of military action where they witness the harrowing scenes of severe injuries, death, and grief daily. Not to mention, the tremendous risk that comes with working in these locations. As of 30 October, the Ministry of Health says 116 workers have been killed, including 18 public emergency department respondents.
Dr Hammam Alloh, tragically killed when an airstrike hit his wife’s home, was a kidney specialist working at al-Shifa Hospital, in the Gaza Strip. Shortly before his death, he spoke to Democracy Now! about conditions at the hospital. Medical devices stopped working due to a power outage resulting in patient fatalities, particularly those on dialysis and ventilation. He reported an increase in diabetes patients who weren’t able to refrigerate their insulin. Regarding aid arriving at al-Shifa, Dr Alloh said supplies weren’t sufficient to meet shortages. He also talked about the Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Hospital in Gaza and its “modest capabilities” even before the war. Despite being the city’s only hospital providing cancer treatment, it was forced to shut down due to a fuel shortage following the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Editor: Kaiyah Ellison
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