Gaza experiencing ‘humanitarian emergency’ warn MAP

 

Press release: 24 August 2017

The situation in Gaza has reached its lowest ebb outside of periods of military attack and should now be considered a humanitarian emergency, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) has today warned.

Gaza has suffered a decline of living standards since Israel’s imposition of a blockade and closure in 2007. This is now exacerbated by severe electricity shortages, with daily blackouts of 18-20 hours and many homes receiving just two hours of mains electricity per day.

Water treatment and desalination plants can only operate minimal services, and 73% of the shoreline is now dangerously polluted. In July, a five-year-old boy fell ill after swimming in the sea and became the first reported death linked to this contamination.

The ICRC recently warned of the impending “systemic collapse” of Gaza’s infrastructure and economy and of a looming “public health and environmental crisis”. Gaza’s medical system is heavily impacted. Electricity shortages necessitate significant reductions in vital hospital services, including sterilisation and cleaning. Infection rates are soaring.  Diagnostic services are limited to when mains electricity is available, and voltage fluctuations have damaged sensitive medical equipment such as MRI machines.

Medical supplies are depleted. In July, the Ministry of Health in Gaza reported that 40% of essential medicines and 34% of medical disposables were at ‘zero stock’ (meaning that less than a month’s supply is available) including half of all cancer drugs.

Despite the increased need, patients encounter unprecedented barriers to accessing life-saving treatment outside Gaza. In June, Israel approved permits for less than half (49.5%) of all patients seeking to exit for treatment in East Jerusalem, the West Bank or abroad. For its part, the Ministry of Health in Ramallah granted financial coverage for only 477 referrals for treatment outside of Gaza, 80% lower than the monthly average in 2016. At least 25 patients are recorded to have died so far this year after being prevented from exiting Gaza for treatment.

In 2012, the UN warned that Gaza could be unliveable by 2020. For patients now unable to access the care they need inside or get out for treatment elsewhere, Gaza is already unliveable.

Aimee Shalan, CEO of MAP said: “Gaza is experiencing a humanitarian emergency, but when bombs are not falling, the international community pays little attention. Without immediate humanitarian aid and concerted political and diplomatic efforts to end the blockade, the result will be the same: avoidable loss of life and the further collapse of a health sector which is already struggling to provide the barest minimum of care.”

In June, the UN launched an urgent funding appeal for a US$25 million package of urgent lifesaving health, water and sanitation, and food security interventions to stabilise Gaza. So far, only 24% of the appeal’s funding has been raised from international donor governments.

As the occupying power, Israel has an international legal obligation to ensure humanitarian assistance to the population under its control, including access to medical care. Palestinian duty-bearers are also obliged to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of the population and ensure access to medical care without discrimination, insofar as they are able within the constraints of occupation.


Case study: Newborn babies at risk

Gaza’s humanitarian deterioration is particularly dangerous for Gaza’s youngest residents.

Neonatal intensive care units in Gaza have experienced dangerous levels of overcrowding, putting the lives of babies at risk. Worsening maternal nutrition and increasing rates of premature and low-birth-weight babies have increased the number of cases referred to these units. At the same time, limited availability of essential medicines and consumables and increasing obstacles to transfers to hospitals outside of Gaza for care mean babies are needing to stay in intensive care incubators for longer.

During one incident in August, medical staff at Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City were forced to provide intensive care for 71 babies in a neonatal unit with capacity for just 43. This meant multiple critically-ill babies sharing incubators. In the UK, babies requiring high-level critical care are typically provided 1:1 or 1:2 nurse-to-baby care. During this critical incident in Gaza, the ratio of staff-to-babies was 1:7.  Overcrowding of this type makes adequate monitoring and infection control impossible.

Electricity outages due to faulty backup generators, which currently run for up to 20 hours per day in hospitals, have in some cases also meant that nurses have had to hand-ventilate babies for up to 50 minutes at a time while they wait for power to be restored.

MAP’s support to babies in Gaza: Since 2008, MAP has been providing training, medicines, disposables and equipment to obstetric and neonatal units in Gaza.

Between April 2015 and June 2017, MAP trained 206 doctors, nurses and midwives in neonatal life support in Gaza, and supported 10 nurses to train in neonatal intensive care skills and care management at Al Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem. Lifesaving medicines and equipment were also provided to six neonatal intensive care units in Gaza by MAP.


 

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