Podcast Ep 16: Gaza physicians “brace for impact”

The first two cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, have been confirmed in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinians in the West Bank are on lockdown, compounded by the Israeli military occupation.

Meanwhile, two million Palestinians confined by Israel in Gaza for the past 13 years are facing the crisis amidst a deliberate diminishing of Gaza’s health system capacity.

Israel has continued to prohibit vital supplies from entering the territory.

Dealing with a problem like the COVID-19 pandemic consists of three major pillars: diagnosis and identification of infected patients, protection of healthcare workers, and treatment, Dr. Tarek Loubani tells The Electronic Intifada Podcast.

“In Gaza, [of] those three pillars of a response to an infectious pandemic like this – not one of them is intact.”

Loubani is a Palestinian Canadian emergency doctor who has been working with Gaza-based physicians and designers to mitigate the overwhelming lack of basic medical supplies and electricity to operate hospitals and treat patients, as Israel and Egypt continue the blockade.

“We’re not talking about small holes, we’re not talking about manageable defects, we’re talking about a complete absence of all of the things that you require to deal with a problem like this,” he says.

Loubani’s Glia project provides open-source designs for healthcare workers to manufacture their own personal protective equipment as well as stethoscopes, tourniquets and otoscopes. They have supplied face shields to medical facilities in Canada to address the growing COVID-19 pandemic.

Loubani tells The Electronic Intifada Podcast that Gaza physicians were the ones to design the face shields that are being used in Canada now.

“So clearly, that’s a product that [Gaza physicians] are going to go forward with,” he says.

Reidun Garapick, a medical student and the communications director of the Glia project, tells The Electronic Intifada that Glia is trying to address the concept of reusability of personal protective equipment.

“If we create [this protective equipment] that can be reused safely, that can be sanitized, that the life span can be prolonged, it’s going to be lower cost for hospitals but it’s also going to protect the health care providers to the same degree and it’s going to help the environment,” she explains.

In Gaza, disposable N95 masks – crucial protection for healthcare workers to shield themselves from the virus, which is spread by airborne droplets – are in extremely short supply.

Loubani is working with his Gaza colleagues to figure out a way to disinfect N95 masks in order to reduce the number they will need to bring in, especially as Israel and Egypt maintain the blockade.

Further reading

Photo: Mahmoud Ajjour/APA Images

Theme music and production assistance by Sharif Zakout

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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).