“We are still in shock”: Assessing the impact of attacks on Gaza

Following Israel’s 11-day military offensive on Gaza, which ended with a ceasefire on Friday, Medical Aid for Palestinians’ (MAP) Gaza team have been taking stock of the destruction caused to healthcare facilities, and persisting health and humanitarian challenges.

On Sunday, the team participated in a field visit, organised by the Ministry of Health (MoH), to assess the damage inflicted on hospitals and health centres. They visited the MoH’s building and adjacent Al Remal clinic, the Hala Al Shwa primary healthcare clinic in the north of Gaza and a Médecins Sans Frontières clinic in Gaza City.

Extensive damage to the Hala Al Shwa clinic impacted all of its services, including COVID-19 testing and vaccination, and damage to the Al Remal clinic caused the suspension of COVID-19 testing and telemedicine services.

“The amount of damage was horrible. Almost all of the sites we visited suffered severe damage via shrapnel, and shattered windows and doors – even those with fortified multi-lock doors,” said Mahmoud Shalabi, MAP’s Senior Programme Manager in Gaza. “But the worst damage was found in the Hala Al Shwa clinic, which is no longer usable. Walls were blown out of their place and the COVID-19 vaccine rooms were totally burnt.”

Overall, 30 health facilities have been damaged or destroyed during the bombardment, including six hospitals and 11 primary healthcare centres. At least 248 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children, and a further 1,948 injured. Gaza’s health system was already struggling to cope with the effects of previous Israeli military assaults, a suffocating 14-year blockade and illegal closure, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and these latest attacks are likely to make things much worse.

MAP’s Gaza team also returned to work in the office on Sunday and were relieved to find that it was not affected, particularly as it is located in the Al Remal neighborhood, which was one of the most targeted areas during the assault.

But our partners RCS4GS and Ard El Insan (AEI) were less fortunate, and both suffered damage to their offices and health centres they operate. Despite this, their staff returned to their offices and continued to work as normal.

As the recovery process begins across Gaza, the impact of the bombardment on people’s mental health is significant. Clearing the rubble from streets, and rebuilding healthcare facilities and infrastructure is the relatively easy part. But healing the mental scars of this attack on an already traumatised population will be an immense challenge.“I think we are all still traumatised and in shock of what has happened,” said Fikr Shalltoot, MAP’s Director of Programmes in Gaza. “It is still difficult to believe that we survived it.”

With more than 90,000 people internally displaced when the ceasefire began, most of whom have been sheltering in overcrowded UNRWA schools or with host families, there are concerns that Gaza will now see another surge in COVID-19 cases. Hospitals continue to endure persistent shortages to essential resources including medicines and disposables, electricity and fuel for generators.   

MAP is thoroughly assessing the emerging humanitarian needs and continuing to provide vital support to health services, including the procurement of essential drugs and disposables, and ongoing support to limb reconstruction, neurosurgery, and blood bank services. Please support these efforts by donating today.

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