Pay attention, Gaza health care disaster looms
By: Brooklyn Middleton
With no indication the most recent conflict between Israel and Hamas is de-escalating, physicians in Gaza warn that a protracted conflict would coincide with an existing medical supply shortage – significantly worsening the health care crisis in the Strip.
Three days into Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, at least 88 Palestinians have been killed – including a number of children and several senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants while hundreds of others have been injured. At time of writing, no Israeli casualties have yet been recorded but breaking reports indicated at least several people were injured – at least one severely – by mortar fire in the southern Eshkol region.
Physicians in Gaza are desperately seeking solutions to continue providing care
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) continued expanding their operation with confirmation of at least 500 airstrikes conducted in the last 72 hours. Meanwhile, the likelihood of a ground invasion continues increasing by the day and Hamas continues firing rockets at all major Israeli cities during times when civilians are most likely to be on public streets.
On the Israeli side, Prime Minister Netanyahu explicitly ruled out the possibility of an imminent ceasefire, stating, “It’s not even on the agenda.”
Hamas is propagating false reports
In Gaza, Hamas continues propagating false reports that scores of Israelis were killed during rocket strikes, in an effort to garner support for their continued attacks that then guarantee an Israeli response. Hamas also reportedly released a song on Al-Asqa television channel, calling for militants to carry out suicide bombings in Tel Aviv and Ashkelon.
While security developments continue to be noted and analyzed, aidwork organizations plead for humanitarian considerations.
“We need the diplomatic intervention by the international community to get the parties to the conflict to agree to a ceasefire as a matter of urgency before more civilians get killed,” said Karl Schembri, Middle East North Africa Regional Manager for Save the Children.
But with no such ceasefire presented, physicians in Gaza are desperately seeking solutions to continue providing care.
On June 26, 2014, Israeli Physicians for Human Rights released a statement regarding a recent report produced by the Palestinian Ministry of Health detailing a health care situation on the brink of utter disaster: when the report was released two weeks ago, 122 types of medications were completely out of stock and 91 others were expected to run out within weeks.
A worsening reality
Interviews by Al Arabiya News with physicians in Gaza reflected the same reality but now far worse as hundreds of injured patients overwhelm ill-equipped physicians.
Dr. Mahmoud Daher, head of the the World Health Organization (WHO) of the Gaza Strip office, indicated the health care crisis this year became “more dramatic” with 28 percent of the essential drug list and at least 50 percent of medical disposables – that is, medical supplies including gauze, gloves, scalpels – completely out of stock.
According to Dr. Daher, the ministry of health suspended all elective surgeries days before the conflict evan began with other reports indicating ambulance services were cut to 50 percent at around the same time.
Further, Dr. Daher stated the Gaza Ministry of Health owes medical supply companies a debt of at least 250 million United States Dollars – a debt the Palestinian Authority has yet to pay or address despite the formation of the unity government in early June.
Dr. Daher also stressed the importance of facilitating access to healthcare for all Palestinians – specifically, those with chronic health care issues – not just patients with conflict related injuries.
In a positive development, Cairo officials opened the Rafah border crossing, which has been mostly closed since the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood in July 2013. Schembri stressed this move was crucial: “The opening of all crossings into Gaza is essential for the blockaded enclave to be able to keep its supply of aid as well as the transfer of seriously wounded people who need serious medical treatment.”
As Egyptian officials publicly condemned what they referred to as Israel’s “collective punishment,” of Palestinians, the degree to which Israeli officials indicate they’ve attempted to reduce civilian casualties is high: In one of several examples, The Times of Israel reported at least 10,000 Palestinian civilians on the Gaza-Israel border were instructed to evacuate their residences – likely due to Israeli military preparations for a ground incursion – but Hamas militants instructed the civilians not to leave.
Meanwhile, as the conflict approaches the fourth day, some Israeli politicians have called for action to cut electricity and water to the Gaza Strip – which Israel continues to provide; PM Netanyahu responded that no such action would be taken, stating “We can’t do what the Russians did to the Chechens.”
Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst reporting from Israel. Her work has appeared in Turkish and Israeli publications including The Times of Israel and Hürriyet Daily News. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama’s policy in Syria as well as the emerging geopolitical threats Israel faces as it pursues its energy interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. She is currently researching Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant groups to complete her MA in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.