Health situation “catastrophic” as Gaza genocide enters sixth month

A child with wounds on his face is being treated by adults in hospital scrubs

A wounded child is treated by physicians at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir El-Balah following Israeli attacks, 7 March.

Ali Hamad APA images

Doctors, nurses and medical staff in Gaza are being forced to treat patients in increasingly dire situations as Israel continues to block food, water, medicine and basic supplies with the backing and complicity of the United States.

Over the last five months, Israeli forces have destroyed 155 health institutions and rendered 32 out of the 36 hospitals completely or partially out of service, according to Dr. Ashraf al-Qedra, the Palestinian health ministry’s spokesperson in Gaza.

“The health situation is absolutely catastrophic and cannot be described, and it is getting worse and deteriorating more as a result of the lack of the necessary medical aid,” al-Qedra stated.

The World Health Organization said that the average bed occupancy rate at Gaza hospitals is almost 300 percent.

For nearly 50 days, Israel has laid siege to Al-Amal Hospital in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis.

Israeli forces have attacked the hospital at least 40 separate times since mid-January, killing at least 25 Palestinians and leaving the facility “incapacitated,” according to the United Nations.

Thousands of patients, displaced families and medical staff were trapped inside the building for weeks as Israeli tanks and snipers surrounded the hospital complex.

“Buildings continue to be peppered by Israeli sniper fire, communications blackouts and the detention of health workers alongside drastic shortages of essential goods and restrictions on what lifesaving supplies can enter the complex,” the UN stated in late February.

Al-Amal’s manager Dr. Haidar Al-Qudra told the UN that for months, critical surgical cases were forcibly postponed.

“All of these normal operations were not performed in any hospital, therefore, most of these patients either died or they are suffering more and more,” Al-Qudra said.

Israeli forces have arrested more than a dozen Palestinian Red Crescent Society health workers, including physicians and ambulance staff, from the hospital. Their whereabouts remain unknown.

The World Health Organization reports that overall 118 health workers in Gaza have been abducted and detained since 7 October.

Al-Qudra explained to the United Nations that there is “no respect for any rule or any humanitarian law related to the medical staff.”

This week, civil defense workers and PRCS staff reported that they have been trying to control fires that have broken out inside hospital buildings.

PRCS warned on 3 March that medical supplies, medications and laboratory equipment “are depleted,” while drinking water, food and other essential items for infants and elderly patients are almost gone.

Blocking medical convoys

Israeli forces have repeatedly attacked and blocked medical convoys to and from Al-Amal Hospital.

In late February, PRCS and World Health Organization teams evacuated two dozen patients from the facility, including a pregnant woman and a mother and her newborn.

“Despite prior coordination for all staff members and vehicles with the Israeli side, the Israeli forces blocked the WHO-led convoy for many hours the moment it left the hospital,” the United Nations stated.

“The Israeli military forced patients and staff out of ambulances and stripped all paramedics of their clothes. Three PRCS paramedics were subsequently detained, although their personal details had been shared with the Israeli forces in advance, while the rest of the convoy stayed in place for over seven hours,” the UN added.

Last month, Chicago-based emergency room doctor Thaer Ahmad joined The Electronic Intifada livestream to talk about his recent experience working at Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis.
Since his return from Gaza, Nasser Medical Complex has been completely debilitated by Israel’s brutal siege and attacks on the facility, its patients, staff and people sheltering there.

“It was a very, very overwhelming situation prior to any sort of siege,” Ahmad said.

“There were people that we were treating on the floor, we were dealing with trauma activation where there are multiple people coming [in] at the same time because a house had been bombed a couple of blocks away,” he explained.

“The doctors there were overworked. They’re working 24-hour shifts on, 24 hours off, and then they too were probably sheltering somewhere around the hospital – and some of them were staying in a tent right outside with their family.”

Impact of starvation on infants

On the 7 March episode of The Electronic Intifada livestream, Dr. Arham Ali, a pediatric critical care specialist, described what it is like to treat the most vulnerable patients inside a hospital in Gaza.

Ali, who works at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital in southern California, recently returned from a two-week stay in Gaza where he worked alongside doctors and nurses at the Emirati Maternity Hospital in Rafah.

“Despite my years of training, my vocabulary does not encompass enough words to describe the atrocities and the devastation that is happening in Gaza right now, for these young, innocent children, specifically the newborn population,” Ali told us.

With few supplies, and lacking basic medication, Dr. Ali said that physicians simply cannot provide life-saving care for the many infants who are born premature.

He also discussed the long-term physical and cognitive impacts on children due to Israel’s engineered policy of starvation.

The neonatal intensive care unit at the Emirati hospital only has 12 beds, he explained, but physicians have been forced to crowd as many as 40 infants inside those beds.

“These patients are sharing incubators, they’re in shared spaces, which as you can imagine is devastating for infection control and for sepsis,” he said.

Many of the tiny patients Ali treated were born early due to maternal malnutrition, dehydration, stress and trauma.

“Many of them could have been treated and would have [had] beautiful lives – we’d see them into adulthood with some assistance,” he said.

“But unfortunately given the severe, severe lack of healthcare infrastructure, due to the severe lack of essential medical supplies and equipment, these children who have survivable injuries – now are unable to survive.”


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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).