UN experts warn Gaza’s health care is at “breaking point”

UN human rights experts have warned that Gaza’s health sector is at “breaking point”.

Last week the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), Professor Michael Lynk, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Dr Dainius Pūras, issued a statement calling for a large-scale international response to the overwhelming health care needs of Palestinians in Gaza.

The pair stressed Israel’s legal obligation, as the occupying power, to protect the population of Gaza, ensure its welfare and wellbeing, and to allow and facilitate access to health care for people in need.

Yet they reflected that “[h]ealth care in Gaza – already precarious in the wake of an 11-year blockade by Israel…has been further impacted by the high rate of casualties from Israeli military fire on Gazan protesters since late March.

We are deeply worried by credible reports that treating, and caring for, the thousands of Gazans wounded by Israeli military fire over the past 12 weeks has strained Gaza’s already overloaded health care system to the breaking point.”

According to the Ministry of Health, almost 8,000 demonstrators in Gaza have been admitted to hospital, with more than 3,900 wounded by live ammunition. Many have sustained complex limb injuries, including 57 people who have had limb amputations.

The human rights experts condemned the Israeli authorities for obstructing Palestinian patients’ access to health care outside of Gaza:

It is unacceptable that many of those requiring care, which is not currently available in Gaza, have been denied exit permits to access healthcare outside of Gaza”.

Out of the 129 applications submitted by Palestinians in Gaza to the Israeli authorities to access health care in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, only 29 were approved. 61 were denied and 39 are still pending.

Denial of access to urgent health care to seriously wounded Gazans outside the strip is a violation of the right to health”.

The experts also expressed concern that hospital patients in Gaza have been discharged prematurely to allow for new casualties to be treated. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 7,000 elective surgeries have now been postponed.

Essential medicines are running short, specialised surgical care is running short and long-term rehabilitation services are being severely strained by the many Gazans with limb amputations and serious injuries”.

The disabling impact on the injured and the financial cost to them, their families and to the Gazan health services is huge and long-term”.

Prof Michael Lynk and Dr Dainius Pūras stressed that urgent international support is needed:

While international fund-raising has gathered more than $US6 million to meet some of the immediate needs, almost $US13 million still needs to be raised. The funds are required to deploy emergency medical teams, to ensure pre-hospital care by trauma teams, to purchase much-needed medicines and to enhance the rehabilitative services for post-operative casualties”.

This sum is a fraction of the more than $500 million requested to meet the humanitarian needs of Gaza and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territory. We urge the world to be generous.”

The description of the current humanitarian situation in Gaza as “a crisis on top of a catastrophe” by the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities, Jamie McGoldrick, was supported:

Gaza is suffering from a long-term health crisis. The Israeli blockade, three devastating wars, a harmful split in Palestinian unity and poorly paid health workers has meant that the availability of medical services and hospitals beds are seriously inadequate to service the many health needs of the two million Gazans. A meager electrical power supply, a badly-depleted water aquifer, the inability to treat sewage and the world’s highest unemployment rates have only intensified the social-health crisis.”

The UN experts stressed that “the short-term responses to Gaza’s current health crisis must go hand-in-hand with decisive steps to change Gaza’s future for the better”.

The statement ended by endorsing the call from the UN Secretary-General “for Israel to end its unlawful blockade and to be an active partner to enabling Gaza to rebuild its economy and resuscitate its health care sector”.

To read the statement in full click here.

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