Urgent action needed to prevent total collapse of Gaza health system

As Gaza’s humanitarian emergency deepens, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) has called for urgent action from the international community to prevent the total collapse of Gaza’s health sector.

Gaza has experienced chronic energy shortages since Israel’s imposition of a blockade and closure in 2007. This crisis was exacerbated in June 2017 with the cutting of electricity supplied by Israel at the request of the Palestinian Authority. Though supplies of this electricity via Israel has restarted, severe fuel shortages for Gaza’s sole power plant remain. Gaza is now receiving four hours of mains electricity every 12 to 16 hours, leaving hospitals and healthcare centres entirely reliant on backup generators for long periods of time, fuel for which is rapidly running out.

The running of generators at 19 Ministry of Health (MOH)-run healthcare centres has now ceased due to fuel shortages. This includes Beit Hanoun Hospital, Al Durra Hospital and Gaza’s main mental health hospital, as well as 16 primary healthcare centres, with Abu Yoused and Al Najjar Hospitals set to close imminently unless a solution is found. Meanwhile, NGO-run hospitals including Al Awda Hospital in north Gaza are struggling to cope with the increase in demand for their services following the closure of MOH facilities.

The United Nations Office for the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned on Tuesday that Gaza is on the “verge of disaster”, with emergency fuel to sustain critical health, water and sanitation services set be exhausted within the next ten days. They have estimated that a minimum of US$6.5 million is required in 2018 to provide the 7.7 million litres of emergency fuel to prevent services from collapsing, with 1.4 million litres per month (US$10 million per year) to ensure full functioning of critical services. OCHA has identified the functioning of MRI, CT and x-ray diagnostic services, as well as intensive care units and operating theatres, as being at particular risk.

Concurrently, Gaza’s health system is beset by severe shortages and increasing restrictions to the movement of patients. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that in January, 40% of all essential drugs were entirely depleted, including medications used in emergency departments. There is also less than one month’s supply available of 26% of medical disposables such as syringes and wound dressings. Last year also saw the lowest rate of permit approvals by Israeli authorities for Palestinian patients needing to exit for medical care outside Gaza since records began in 2006. In total only 54.5% of permits to exit Gaza for appointments in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, or abroad were approved, with no signs of improvement for these restrictions in 2018.

Dr Aimee Shalan, MAP CEO, said:

The rapid collapse of Gaza’s health system is a man-made crisis, and could be reversed though international humanitarian funding and political action to bring a decade-long closure to an end. Failure to act is inexcusable, and will lead to entirely avoidable loss of life.”

MAP urges the international community, including the UK Government, to urgently help to address immediate humanitarian needs in Gaza by funding urgently-needed fuel for vital healthcare services. Simultaneously, governments must seek sustainable solutions to Gaza’s protracted crisis by helping bring Gaza’s closure - deemed by the International Committee of the Red Cross to be “a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel's obligations under international humanitarian law” - to an end.

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