Gaza residents reeling from closed hospitals, malnutrition and heat risks, UN health agency warns — Global Issues


Briefing journalists in Geneva, UN World Health Organization (WHO) Spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said that according to the enclave’s health authorities, 34 people have died of malnutrition and dehydration during the ongoing Israeli bombardment, which was triggered by the Hamas-led terror attacks of October 7.

“In Kamal Adwan Hospital alone (in northern Gaza) Last week, 60 cases of severe acute malnutrition were identified“, the WHO spokesperson told reporters.

Easy prey for diseases

“Malnutrition is certainly one of the factors that reduces immunity, especially of the vulnerable population, the elderly and children, who then cannot really cope with any disease or pathogen that they may get,” said Mr Jasarevic, who is a “vicious circle of not having access to adequate food, clean water, clean sanitation, not having access to basic health care”.

Mr Jašarević paid tribute to the dedication of health workers who, once they felt safe enough, returned to their facilities to try to restart essential services. Of the 36 hospitals in Gaza, only 13 are ‘partially’ functioninghe said.

Health center reopens

In more positive news, hundreds of Gazans sought care at a recently reopened UN health centre in Khan Younis, six months after it was badly damaged and forced to close due to heavy fighting, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees reported (UNRWA) said on Tuesday.

The UNRWA Japanese health centre in Khan Younis provides basic health care and houses a pharmacy and medical staff who had previously fled the fighting and Israeli tanks rolling through the streets outside.

“People in Gaza are in urgent need of health care, but only a fraction of UNRWA health centres are operational due to ongoing military operations and the damage and destruction of UNRWA facilities.“, said Louise Wateridge, UNRWA’s senior communications officer, UN News“Less than a third of our health centers are operational.”

On the first day the hospital was back in operation, 33 medical staff reported to duty and assisted more than 900 patients seeking treatment, she added.

‘Sick people feel relieved’

Among the medical staff at the center, lab technician Abu Omar described the trauma of having to flee with other Gazans in January as Israeli tanks approached. “I have been working in the Japanese clinic for 20 years… I was there until the last day. I have gone through the very bitter and very difficult experience of displacement. Our spirits were lifted when we heard that the Japanese clinic was functioning again; sick people feel relieved.”

Today, the centre provides pre- and post-natal care, blood tests, treatments for non-communicable diseases and offers outpatient care, after the UN agency led work to remove broken brickwork, glass and bullets from the facility.

Like many UNRWA health centers, the Japan health center operates double shifts to manage the large influx of patients from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. But referrals to UNRWA-contracted hospitals have become increasingly complex due to electricity shortages and a lack of supplies, Ms. Wateridge said. Today, the agency has 100 temporary health points and eight of its 26 functional health centers.

Mental health support

Since June 26, the UN agency has been providing mental health and psychosocial support in the Middle and Khan Younis areas of Gaza, with teams of psychiatrists and supervisors to assist special cases referred by health centers and shelters.

UNRWA teams responded to 626 cases in health centres and medical points through individual consultations, and provided awareness-raising sessions and support for cases of gender-based violence. The agency’s staff also provided medical care to 391 high-risk postnatal and pregnant women.

Insufficient capacity

The total capacity of the six partially functional hospitals in southern Gaza – including three in Deir Al Balah and three in Khan Younis – is only 1,334 beds.

Of the 11 field hospitals in the Gaza Strip, three had to be temporarily closed and four are only partially functioning, “due to hostilities in Rafah and limited access,” the WHO said.

As for the hospital infrastructure, “the level of destruction is so great that it is difficult to even imagine how much time it will take (to rebuild it) once the war is over,” Mr Jašarević stressed.

Tedros condemns evacuations

There is really no safe place in Gaza“, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus insisted, warning in a online message that the latest reports of evacuation orders in Gaza City “will further hamper the delivery of very limited life-saving care.”

Al-Ahli and Patient Friendly Hospitals are out of service“Patients have self-evacuated, been discharged early or been referred to hospitals in Kamal Adwan and Indonesia, which are facing shortages of fuel, beds and trauma medical supplies,” the WHO chief continued.

Indonesian hospital has tripled capacity. Al-Helou Hospital is located within the blocks of the evacuation order but is still partially operational. As-Sahaba and Al-Shifa hospitals are close to the areas under the evacuation order but are still operational so far. Six medical points and two primary health care centers are also located within the evacuation zones.”

Nowhere and no one is safe

In addition to the direct consequences of the Israeli army’s relentless bombing and shelling that continued throughout the night, “everyone in Gaza” is at risk of becoming ill and dying from lack of care, Mr Jašarević said.

The situation is particularly serious for pregnant women, people with chronic diseases such as cancer or diabetes, injured people who do not receive timely treatment, and children at risk from waterborne diseases.

He reiterated the agency’s call for all border crossings into the enclave to be opened to allow for much-needed medical evacuations.

“More than 10,000 people require specialized medical care outside Gaza. These people can’t wait,” he stood on it.

The flow of medical aid has also come to a standstill, with the UN health agency reporting that not a single truck reached Gaza last week.

Asked about the current state of health facilities in the Gaza Strip, Mr Jašarević said that hospitals are being evacuated or destroyed by bombardments, and there is no possibility of rebuilding them until the fighting stops.

According to the latest emergency update from the UN Aid Coordination Office, OCHAIn just one week, patients and medical staff were evacuated from three hospitals in southern Gaza, “due to fears of intensified military activity that could render health facilities unusable or inaccessible”.

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