Gaza’s health sector on the brink amid fuel crisis

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has this week warned that the functioning of 14 public hospitals, as well as other care services including blood banks, is critically endangered by electricity shortages and dwindling supplies of UN-coordinated fuel to run backup generators.

Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)’s team in Gaza report that essential services, including cleaning, sterilisation, catering and diagnostics are currently only available at times when mains electricity supply is available, averaging at nine hours per day.

The lives of patients in intensive care units, including newborn babies reliant on incubators and ventilators, are at imminent risk unless additional fuel is secured. Elective surgeries, many already postponed due to the influx of trauma patients resulting from Israel’s use of force against protesters in the ‘Great March of Return’ demonstrations, have been further reduced.

The WHO has warned that the closure of wards and hospitals is imminent.

Medical stock shortages and barriers to patients’ freedom of movement also continue to endanger the lives of patients in Gaza. In December 2018, 42% of essential medicines and 23% of medical disposables were at ‘zero stock’, meaning that less than a month’s supply was available on shelves. According to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, this includes 44% of medications used to treat auto-immune, genetic and infectious diseases, with 43% of medications used to treat blood diseases and cancer also at critical levels.

“The acute fuel shortages are rapidly exhausting the last coping capacities of the health system in Gaza, which is struggling with chronic shortages of pharmaceuticals, medical supplies and electricity,” said Dr Gerald Rockenschaub, Head of the WHO in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). “Without a quick solution to address the critically low emergency fuel supplies in hospitals, many of the most vulnerable patients will be put at risk.”

In the context of severe US aid cuts to the oPt, the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the West Bank is set to deteriorate further in 2019. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has launched an appeal for $350 million to respond to the needs of 1.4 million Palestinians in 2019. This funding is particularly required in Gaza amid rising poverty, unemployment, food insecurity and casualties incurred at the protests.

At the same time, OCHA has raised concerns about the impact of delegitimisation campaigns, access restrictions, and administrative constraints on the activities of humanitarian and human rights organisations operating in the oPt. As humanitarian needs grow, barriers to this work continue to grow.

Israel has an international legal obligation, as the occupying power, to ensure the functioning and maintenance of medical establishments in the occupied territory. Notwithstanding the constraints of the occupation, all Palestinian duty-bearers, including the Palestinian Authority and the de facto authorities in Gaza, are also obliged to respect, protect and fulfil the right to health of Palestinians.

“Urgent action, within the context of lifting the unlawful 11-year closure of Gaza, is needed to address this crisis and protect lives”, said MAP CEO Aimee Shalan. “MAP calls on international donors, including the UK, to step in immediately to keep Gaza's health system running.”