Gaza’s healthcare crisis deepens as casualties rise

Published October 27, 2023
People rescue a survivor from the rubble of a building destroyed during Israeli bombardment in Khan Yunis. — AFP
People rescue a survivor from the rubble of a building destroyed during Israeli bombardment in Khan Yunis. — AFP

“The wounded keep dying in front of your eyes but there’s nothing you can do, and I think that is a trauma I will carry with me for all my life,” Bassel Amr, a volunteer ICU physician told Middle East Eye. He called the aftermath of ground attacks ‘beyond worst case scenario’ as the situation on the ground in Gaza unfolds.

Gaza’s hospitals were already at full capacity, tending to patients, including those who were wounded, pregnant women, children, and newborn infants in the aftermath of Israeli airstrikes. Unfortunately, with the recent ground invasion, the situation has further deteriorated. In addition to the existing patients, healthcare personnel are now also confronted with trauma injuries resulting from ground attacks.

“The smell of blood and sand is everywhere,” Dr Mohammad Mattar, head of radiology department at Al-Shifa Hospital which is Gaza strip’s largest and as of now only operational medical complex since other places have run out of fuel told NPR.

“We are left in a situation where we have to make the difficult decision to risk the life of one patient in order to save the life of another,” Dr Amr said.

“We already warned a few days ago that the hospital won’t be able to deal with any other crisis in coming days since the equipment and necessary tools were already running out, now after the ground raids, it has become impossible to hunt for any resources, hence we have to utilise whatever is left,” he added.

When Israel started to prepare for its planned ground invasion of Gaza, it warned the residents in the north to flee south so that they don’t become a target, that included hospitals too. But healthcare community in Gaza insisted that the evacuation of the wounded and displaced would be impossible.

“As of now, around 600 babies are in incubators and out of them, 120 are in critical life-or-death situation. With no fuel, we’re left with no choice but to choose between who we can save and who we cannot, and I have never endured a more heart-wren­ching situation in my entire career,” Dr Amr said.

Al-Shifa hospital currently accommodates 62,000 displaced individuals, and the rapid spread of viruses is a growing concern. This exacerbates the issue of inadequate sterilisation within the hospital, leaving patients susceptible to infections. Further­more, most hospitals had to make morgues in the functional wards to accommodate the dead bodies which are still there and the count of everyday is in hundreds.

“All of it cannot be evacuated suddenly,” an intern at Al-Shifa told Reuters.

International groups have issued warnings regarding the potential for water-borne diseases and scabies due to the shortage of clean water in the area. Amr further noted that the nature of injuries treated at his hospital, primarily involving scarring and disfigurements, foreshadows an impending health crisis following the conclusion of hostilities.

Dr. Hussam al-Madhoun echoed a comparable scenario at the Al-Awda hospital in the northern Gaza region which has become partially non-functional as of now since it has completely run out of fuel.

He emphasised that the hospital is extremely overcrowded, with “no space to walk,” as thousands of civilians have sought shelter there due to the Israeli airstrikes. Similar to the situation at Al-Shifa, Al-Awda is grappling with insufficient capacity to handle casualties and is facing a critical shortage of medical supplies, especially after ground invasion.

He added that Gaza is now suffering from a shortage of shrouds.“There is nothing worse than not finding enough shrouds to cover the martyrs, so you wrap them with garbage bags and old pieces of cloth,” he said.

“Now, with the ongoing siege and the fuel running out, a humanitarian catastrophe is imminent, and we will lose patients in our department and possibly thousands of patients in the entire hospital,” he added.

Previously, in a video released by DW Cut, doctors have pleaded several times that Gaza is about to experience a total collapse of the healthcare system due to supplies running out like sand in hand and the number of casualties increasing each day.

Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2023

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