Experts warn of Gaza’s imminent health system collapse as COVID-19 continues to spread

Photo credit: Shutterstock/ Abed Rahim Khatib

Health experts in Gaza have warned that the local health care system is days away from being overwhelmed, as COVID-19 (coronavirus) continues to rapidly spread.

Cases of COVID-19 have more than tripled over the past month in Gaza, with more than 15,000 people infected and 69 deaths sadly recorded.

Speaking to the BBC, Abdelnaser Soboh, the World Health Organization's (WHO’s) Emergency Health Co-Ordinator in Gaza, warned that "within a week, we will become unable to care for critical cases."

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Speaking from Gaza, Mahmoud Shalabi, MAP’s senior Emergency and Medical Training Manager, said:

“The WHO in Gaza has echoed the Ministry of Health’s (MoH) fears, that the health system will not be able to cope with the continued increase in COVID-19 cases. It is of extreme importance that the health system is enabled to operate to meet the demands, but there are huge shortages in PPE, drugs, disposables, infection control supplies, ICU equipment and respiratory devices and, last but not least, oxygen urgently needed for COVID-19 patients. The MoH currently only has a capacity of 1,300 litres of oxygen per minute while they are in need of 3,000. This all adds to the grim reality of Gaza’s beleaguered health system, and the fact that imposing a strict lockdown is almost impossible in one of the most overcrowded places in the world.”

The current spike in cases is stretching the capacity of Gaza’s beleaguered health system, long on the brink of collapse, and a society that is suffocating under illegal collective punishment in the form of Israel’s 13-year closure and blockade.

Health authorities are reporting a shortage in oxygen supply for coronavirus patients at the European Gaza Hospital, the dedicated hospital for COVID-19. While in Gaza’s Central Drug Store, there is less than one month’s supply of 45% of essential medicines and 31% of medical disposables left on shelves.

Beyond Gaza, a two-week lockdown has been imposed as of today in the West Bank on weekends and week nights due to a sharp rise in the number of new coronavirus cases. Currently there are 69,652 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the West Bank and sadly 649 deaths.

Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) is working tirelessly to provide vital equipment and medical supplies to support infection control efforts and help health workers treat patients in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). MAP is 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. We have also 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.

With the support of high-profile specialists from the UK and Dr Mai Alkaila, the Minister of Health for Palestine, MAP is also exchanging and enhancing knowledge about the pandemic within the region. Over the weekend, Dr Andy Ferguson, MAP’s Director of Programmes, joined specialists in epidemiology, respiratory diseases, critical care, palliative care and care of the elderly from several teaching hospitals in the UK to deliver a COVID-19 training course to Palestinian health workers. The virtual workshop reached 140 medical and nursing staff from the Ministry of Health in Gaza and the West Bank and health workers from the Palestine Red Crescent Society in Lebanon.

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1 December 2020: This article has been edited to reflect more recent information from the WHO on the availability of ventilators in Gaza. The WHO currently reports that "about half of ICU bed capacities are being used, and five patients are on ventilators in designated COVID-19 health facilities.

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