Saving lives and limbs in Gaza

Gaza’s hospitals are overwhelmed by mass trauma casualties.

Since 30 March, Palestinians in Gaza have been participating in widespread civil society-organised demonstrations, known as the “Great March of Return”. With more than two thirds of the population refugees, demonstrators are demanding the realisation of their right to return to the lands they were expelled from or fled in 1948, and the wider realisation of their rights after 11 years of unlawful closure and blockade. The protests include cultural, educational and entertainment events.

Israel’s shocking – and often lethal – use of force against protestors has resulted in the deaths of scores of Palestinians, and thousands have been injured by live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas. Thousands of patients have sustained gunshot injuries, mainly to the limbs, and an estimated 1,500 people have devastating, disabling wounds that need specialist limb reconstruction treatment and long-term rehabilitation. That number continues to rise every week.

Dr Andy Ferguson, MAP’s Director of Programmes was present at Gaza’s largest hospital, Al Shifa, on 14 May, the deadliest day in Gaza since 2014:

Any hospital in the UK would be utterly overwhelmed by such a massive influx of injuries as we saw in Gaza. Amid dwindling supplies of medicines and equipment and Gaza’s chronic electricity shortages, hospitals in Gaza were in crisis even before the protests began. It is testimony to the motivation and skills of medical teams in Gaza that, despite this, hospitals were able to keep receiving, triaging, referring and treating patients – both the newly-wounded and the hospital’s standard patient workload.

On Monday 14 May, despite 12 theatres working flat out throughout the afternoon and evening, at 10pm there were still 70 major orthopaedic cases waiting for surgery – most of those with gunshot wounds. By 8am the following morning, 40 of these were still waiting, many in agony due to the unavailability of sufficient pain medications. Even basic supplies – gauze, syringes, surgical gowns – were running out.

MAP is doing all it can to respond to the needs, but it is up to the international community to ensure this bloodshed is not repeated, and that Gaza’s health sector is supported to finally develop in line with the needs of its 2 million residents.”

MAP has been supporting Gaza’s health service in preparation for such complex injuries since 2014, when thousands of people were injured as a result of Israel’s military offensive. With our partner IDEALS, we sent a team of orthopaedic surgeons from King’s College Hospital in London to Gaza. There, they began conducting vital operations for patients, and training a local team of limb reconstruction specialists, including surgeons, theatre technicians and nurses.

Their regular visits led to the establishment of Gaza’s first dedicated Limb Reconstruction Unit at Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, with more recent support for a second unit at the European Gaza Hospital. Through this project, we have also helped to train Palestinian physiotherapists, who are playing an essential role in helping people to recover better from their injuries and regain mobility and functioning. This ongoing support is vital to treating the high number of Palestinians suffering shattered bones.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2018 edition of our supporter magazine, Witness.