Israel's Blockade Affects Gaza's Sick and Elderly
Israel's blockade poses immediate threat to the lives of Gaza's sick and elderly
The seven-month ongoing Israeli blockade is taking an ever-more severe toll on the health system in the Gaza Strip, says aid agency Oxfam International. The one-off relaxation of the blockade this week to allow the delivery of fuel and some other humanitarian supplies, cannot meet the needs of 1.5 million Gazan population, especially the sick, injured and vulnerable.
Israeli fuel and electricity deliveries to Gaza had been reduced over the last couple of months. Even before the complete shutdown last weekend, clinics and hospitals in Gaza already largely relied on emergency generators due to frequent interruptions of electricity supply.
Unstable electricity supply and lack of fuel for emergency generators disrupt the functioning of equipment for acute care services like incubators for newborns, heart monitors in intensive care, dialysis machines for kidney patients as well as for lights and crucial equipment and machinery used in surgery. Other critical services, like machinery in prenatal care and the simple necessity of heating in wards have been also been put at risk. Last weekend, when Israel completely halted its fuel supply most hospitals were forced to close down their operating rooms and clinics and primary health care centres reduce their service delivery to an absolute minimum.
In Shifa hospital in Gaza city, 135 cancer patients are currently unable to receive treatment due to the lack of basic medications. According to WHO, 105 of a list of 460 essential medications are no longer in stock in Gazan pharmacies (January 12, 2008). Since June 2007, 72 patients in need of urgent referral treatment outside Gaza have died, as a result of the closure of Rafah and since Israel did not approve or delayed their permit requests to cross Erez. The breaching of the border wall that allowed thousands of Gazans into Egypt to purchase fuel, food and other supplies should not be viewed as a solution.
Oxfam partner, Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS), operates a number of primary health clinics throughout the Gaza Strip. As Dr. Aed El-Yaghi of PMRS explains "there is a dire need for essential drugs, lacking as a direct result of Israel's stringent blockade. Hospitals are underfunded and more people are relying on NGOs for health care. With people's deteriorating economic situation, medical service providers stopped asking for a minimum fee. This puts an additional burden on NGOs to maintain health care services".
There is also a long list of essential medical equipment and spare parts that have not been allowed into the Gaza Strip since June 2007. Al-Awda hospital in Jabaliya, run by Oxfam's partner the Union of Health Work Committees (UHWC), has been waiting for months for the delivery of the ventilators needed for its intensive care unit, as well as for two new X-ray machines, and spare parts for its broken complete blood cell counter (CBC - essential for leukemia and anemia patients). Part of a newly-bought endoscope unit, ordered in March 2007, only arrived to Al-Awda hospital in November 2007, while the rest of the unit is still waiting for permission to pass through the Gaza crossings.
Israel's escalating military attacks on Gaza have naturally put additional pressure on emergency rooms and ordinary medical service delivery. Facing dismal conditions and lacking essential supplies, more casualties in need of treatment strip hospitals of their capacity to cope. The lack of car fuel since last weekend has made it impossible for ambulances to operate and for medical personnel to reach their work.
Jeremy Hobbs, director of Oxfam International, said today: "Oxfam International is gravely concerned about the life and safety of the civilian population residing in the Gaza Strip, just as it is for the Israeli civilians threatened by rockets launched from the occupied Palestinian territories. But it is in Gaza that a population of 1.5 million people is undergoing collective punishment. Gazans flocking through Rafah to Egypt for medicines, food and clothing makes it imperative for the international community to assume its legal and moral obligation to ensure that Israel immediately lift its inhumane and illegal siege. Under international humanitarian law, Israel remains the occupying power and therefore holds the responsibility to secure and provide the basic needs of the occupied population. Failing to do so constitutes a grave violation of their basic human rights."