Gaza – Some shining lights in the darkness
By: Tony Laurance
I’ve spent the last week in Gaza leading a medical team carrying out an assessment of the human damage wrought by the most recent conflict – and looking to see how specialists doctors from the UK might be able to help. What I saw was both the horror of war and the incredible resilience of the people of Gaza, in particular their medical staff.
We should be under no illusion as to the pressure that Gaza’s health sector is under. As well as killing almost 2,000 Palestinians, the Israeli assault shut down five hospitals, damaged at least twenty four health facilities and severely depleted already limited medical supplies. Within the first 24-hours of the attacks, hospitals started to run out of essential supplies, including sterile gloves; fluids and antibiotics.
Predictably, the attacks exacerbated a growing public health crisis in Gaza caused by repeated bouts of violence and the long term consequences of the blockade. Displacement and destruction, power loss, water shortages, and damage to water and sanitation infrastructure have all seriously increased the risk infectious diseases such as meningitis, watery diarrhoea and skin diseases.
Refusing to give up
Yet, against the backdrop of such a desperate situation, the medical professionals in Gaza’s hospitals and clinics refuse to give up. Many medics have not been paid for months and carry on not knowing how they can support their families. Whilst in Shifa Hospital, I met Dr Adnan whose cousin had been killed by an unexploded missile, yet incredibly he kept working and helping the lives of others. During the worst of the fighting, our team on the ground would report medics carrying on with barely any sleep for weeks on end, often having to fight back tears as they treated severely wounded children whose young lives have been scarred forever by a conflict they know little about. Despite the appalling conditions, the medical staff did a fantastic job. Our team of specialists reviewed many of the most serious cases still in hospital and were hugely impressed by the quality of life-saving surgeries that had been carried out.
The human loss is what stays with you, talking to people across Gaza. I met members of the Najar family who’d lost 48 relatives
Our team visited Wafa Hospital, the only specialist rehabilitation hospital in the whole of the Gaza Strip, which was completely wiped off the map. Its staff survived, but their equipment and facilities are now a pile of rubble. Outside Shifa Hospital are the remains of destroyed ambulances, more evidence of how the attacks left a heavy toll on health facilities. Some twenty one paramedics and ambulance drivers were killed over the past month and thirty ambulances were destroyed.
Of course the human loss is what stays with you, talking to people across Gaza. I met members of the Najar family who’d lost 48 relatives. U.N. statistics show that 72% of those killed in Gaza were civilians.
Many patients were discharged from hospital prematurely to make space for the arrival of yet more war wounded. Some of these had no homes to go to or families left to care for them. Overall, 16,735 homes have been destroyed or damaged beyond repair, rendering some 100,410 people homeless. Unexploded ordnance remains an ever present threat to life and limb, drones still buzz in the sky and danger is everywhere.
With the ceasefire holding, our priority must now be to help people recover. Amongst the almost 10,000 injured Palestinians are large numbers of amputees who will need prosthetics and a long period of rehabilitation. Specialists in limb restoration and plastic surgery will be needed to help the people of Gaza to recover and MAP will lead more teams of specialist medics back to the region to work with our Palestinian counterparts to do exactly that.
Next Tuesday is World Humanitarian Day and I would like the rest of the world to acknowledge the efforts of those Palestinian heroes working in the clinics and hospitals of Gaza at this critical time. As the ceasefire holds, attention has moved back to the key issues of the blockade of Gaza and the future for the 1.8 million Palestinians living there. I believe this is the vital moment to set out a new deal for Gaza and not to return to the status quo. The wounded, whose lives we’re helping put back together again, should be given the chance for a better future ahead and not a countdown to yet another cycle of death and destruction.
Tony Laurance is the Chief Executive of Medical Aid for Palestinians. He tweets @TonyLauranceMAP.