MAP responding to COVID-19 outbreak in Gaza amid fears of health system collapse

Cases of COVID-19 continue to spread in Gaza following the discovery of the first locally-transmitted cases on 24 August. According to the latest figures from the Palestinian Ministry of Health, as of 11 September a total of 1,631 people have been infected, with 1,501 of these having contracted the disease in their communities. Eleven people have sadly died. The majority of the cases are in the North Area and Gaza City.

The Ministry of Health in Gaza has imposed strict lockdown measures, and is working hard to isolate positive cases and trace/test their contacts and relevant health workers. The rapid spread reflects the challenges to infection control in Gaza. As one of the most densely-populated places on Earth, with its refugee camps in particular suffering severe overcrowding and poor public sanitation, infectious diseases can spread rapidly. Gaza endures chronic shortages of essential services such as clean water and electricity, and more than half (53%) of people now live below the poverty line.

The current COVID-19 outbreak is stretching the capacity of Gaza’s beleaguered health system, which suffers crippling shortages of essential supplies and human resources. Gaza lacks adequate equipment such as ventilators needed to treat those who fall seriously ill with COVID-19, and 45% of essential medicines and 31% of medical disposables are at “zero stock”, meaning less than one month’s supply available at Gaza’s Central Drug Store. The diversion of precious resources to respond to the COVID-19 crisis will exacerbate shortages in all other areas of health care.

So far at least 125 health workers have been infected, placing further pressure on the system’s capacity to cope with COVID-19 cases and respond to existing needs. Four health workers (one nurse and three doctors) have been infected at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Al Nassar Hospital, and so Al Shifa hospital’s NICU is now overcrowded with 48 babies. Health workers are working long shifts and on reduced wages as they battle the pandemic amid a protracted economic crisis caused in large part by Israel’s illegal 13-year closure and blockade.

Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) is deeply concerned by the outbreak and fears that Gaza’s health sector will be overwhelmed. Our team in Gaza has responded by prioritising infection prevention and containment. MAP has provided hygiene kits to quarantined families, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for Palestinian health workers, COVID-19 PCR testing kits and antiseptics/disinfectants to help prevent further spread of the disease. MAP is also providing Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) respirators and essential medicines and disposables to Gaza’s hospitals, to treat COVID-19 patients with severe breathing difficulties.

Meanwhile, cases also continue to grow in the West Bank (35,663 cases identified, 214 deaths) and Lebanon (21,877 cases overall, including 530 among Palestinian refugees). On 26 August MAP, for the first time, declared a humanitarian emergency across all areas of operation, warning that “without a significant boost of international financial and diplomatic support, this multi-layered, pan-regional crisis constitutes an existential threat to the health and wellbeing of the Palestinian people.”

MAP is deeply grateful to everyone who has supported our emergency appeal, enabling us to respond rapidly to this growing crisis.

We are also calling on the international community to immediately boost its humanitarian funding to the Palestinian health system, and take necessary diplomatic efforts to ensure Israel ends its illegal closure and blockade of Gaza that has long undermined local healthcare capacity and the social determinants of health among Gaza’s two million inhabitants.

If you would like to support MAP’s emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the occupied Palestinian territory and Palestinian refugee communities in Lebanon you can donate online today, or take on our “Give Up To Stand Up For Palestine” challenge event starting on 28 September.

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