Podcast Ep 38: The coming COVID-19 explosion in Gaza

On episode 38, Nora speaks with Dr. Tarek Loubani about the immediate devastation to Gaza’s medical and public health infrastructure during and after the recent Israeli attacks.

This comes on top of the slow collapse of the medical system due to Israel’s draconian 14-year-old siege.

Loubani works alongside doctors at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, the Strip’s main trauma center.

“All the reports I was getting were saying things I wasn’t used to hearing, from people who I know don’t tend to exaggerate,” Loubani says.

The medical system in Gaza “cannot provide the basics of medical healthcare for its patients … it has failed,” he adds.

Amongst the approximately 230 Palestinians killed by Israeli airstrikes were two prominent physicians.

Dr. Ayman Abu al-Ouf, a colleague of Loubani’s who was the chief of internal medicine at al-Shifa hospital and led the COVID-19 response team, was killed in his home with his family.

Dr. Mouin al-Aloul was the Gaza Strip’s only board-certified neurologist and was killed with his wife while they were also in their home.

“These were people who are very important in a place where there aren’t that many – these [physicians] are scarce resources,” Loubani says.

He adds that the loss of Dr. al-Aloul could set neurological care in Gaza back ten years.

Loubani also works with engineers at the Glia Project which makes 3D-printed medical equipment such as tourniquets, face shields and stethoscopes.

The Gaza offices of Glia’s partner, Tashkeel3D, were destroyed by Israeli attacks.

Days before the ceasefire went into effect on 21 May, after 11 days of Israeli bombing, United Nations human rights experts raised the alarm over the “deteriorating humanitarian conditions in Gaza,” particularly in regards to its healthcare system.

“It has been starved of equipment, medicines and trained staff. It is buckling under the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic. And now, it is trying to treat the more than 2,000 Palestinians injured during this latest violence,” the rights experts said.

When Israeli airstrikes were destroying or damaging homes, office buildings and roads over those 11 days, tens of thousands of Palestinians were forced to shelter in UN facilities with little ability to socially distance or protect each other from the spread of COVID-19.

Israeli bombing damaged the only COVID-19 testing facility in the Gaza Strip, temporarily shutting it down.

Loubani says that there hasn’t been enough testing swabs or vaccines to properly contain the virus.

There is no personal protective equipment (PPE) to speak of, he says.

After the wave of injuries from Israeli airstrikes, which flattened buildings and damaged thousands of homes, and the surge of patients with COVID-19 infections, doctors are being forced to choose which patients can have access to the limited number of ventilators in Gaza.

“Now, obviously, those patients are being released under what’s called a discharge to die – which is to send them to their family so they can die peacefully at home,” he explains.

With the virus and the inability to practice social distancing, he says, “you’re talking about families who have to provide end-of-life care for patients, where they know that in so doing they are now going to get COVID and going to get sick and going to be in that terrible situation where maybe now their family has to take care of them.”

Articles we discussed

Video production by Tamara Nassar

Theme music 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).