Last July, during Israel’s 51-day attack on the Gaza Strip that killed approximately 2,220 Palestinian women, men and children, the Israeli army bombed and shelled homes, offices, schools, infrastructure, United Nations shelters, hospitals and clinics.
Al-Wafa serves the needs of the disabled and the elderly, many needing round-the-clock care and monitoring. Since al-Wafa was bombed to rubble, medical staff have been treating their patients in a secondary location and are raising funds to rebuild the main hospital.
Dr. Basman Alashi is the director of al-Wafa hospital. During the attacks, he and his staff were able to evacuate the patients to other locations, including relatives’ homes.
Giving an update to The Electronic Intifada, Alashi said that with the help of donations of medical equipment from international organizations, al-Wafa is “back in business and is functioning” as they work to reconstruct the main hospital building.
However, the Israeli siege continues to restrict access to basic medicines across the Gaza Strip. “We still lack much of the medications, since we don’t receive this on a regular basis and our usage needs for these medications are daily and [at] every hour,” Alashi said.
“The amount that enters Gaza is not sufficient enough for many hospitals, and especially our hospital. Every week, we search Gaza to get medical equipment and medicines [from other hospitals].”
He added that Gaza’s main hospital, al-Shifa, is still suffering a shortage of many medicines that Israel has restricted as Egypt maintains its tight closure of the southern Rafah crossing.
Despite the destruction to their facility, al-Wafa’s staff have continued to care for patients in creative and powerful ways. In September, Alashi told The Electronic Intifada that medical workers created an outreach program across the Gaza Strip, going door-to-door to treat patients and help families of the injured, ill and wounded take care of their loved ones.
He said that this outreach program may be one of the only ways patients can get treatment until medical facilities destroyed by Israel this summer are rebuilt and the siege is lifted.
“We assess that the injured — those who need medical rehabilitation — are more than 50 percent of the [approximately 11,000 people] injured,” Alashi said in September. “None of the hospitals here in Gaza would be able to handle all [those people].”
Israel’s ongoing blockade against Gaza — enforced by Egypt — means that there has been virtually no reconstruction whatsoever since the 26 August 2014 ceasefire agreement. Dozens of aid agencies have called for international sanctions against Israel in order to lift the siege.
Impact on children
Alashi was joined by Dr. Rand Askalan, a pediatric neurologist based in Toronto who has traveled back and forth to Palestine since last summer’s attack. Askalan recently met patients and staff at al-Wafa hospital, as well as at other medical facilities in Gaza.
She helped procure the donations for three kidney dialysis machines to the al-Rantisi pediatric hospital in Gaza, which she said are already saving the lives of children with chronic kidney disease. Askalan is also working with international physicians to train specialists in Gaza.
“The situation of healthcare in Gaza reflects the same [situation] of children, given that the majority of the population are children under the age of fifteen. So the impact … will affect the children more than anyone else,” she said.
“They don’t have the access to medical care as much as they should,” Askalan explained.
“Living the war after the war finished”
In the interview, Alashi talked about several children in their care who are severely traumatized, physically and emotionally. “The children are living the war after the war finished,” he said.
“Gaza is full of children who need our help. Our resources are very scarce and limited.”
Alashi told a story about a young boy who lost nine members of his family during an attack on his farmland. The boy was paralyzed from his injuries, and is being kept alive by a mechanical breathing machine at al-Wafa. “Sometimes he has memories … remembering the sounds of the bombs, remembering his father, remembering his twin brother and sisters. That child is still … living the past as we are unable to bring him back to live a normal life.”
Alashi said he makes sure a nurse is with the boy 24 hours a day, as the electricity supply is intermittent across Gaza and electronic monitoring systems are not reliable enough to supervise the boy’s chronic needs.
“We’re trying as much as we can to use human resources instead of machines that we used to have at al-Wafa hospital,” the doctor explained.
Listen to the interview with Dr. Basman Alashi and Dr. Rand Askalan via the media player above.
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