A delegation of ten doctors from NIF grantee Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI) was the first such delegation to reach Gaza since the coronavirus pandemic began in March. Israeli doctors delivered medical equipment and medications and performed surgery, examinations and mental health training for Gazan medical professionals. The delegation included surgeons, pediatricians, family doctors, as well as specialists in orthopedics, cardiology, gastroenterology and mental health.
Even before the pandemic, Gaza’s health services were severely inadequate. But COVID-19, which is currently surging in Gaza, has brought the hospitals and clinics to the brink of collapse. NIF grantees in Israel were bracing ourselves for an outbreak in Gaza – asking what will families there be able to do to avoid the spread of the virus and be treated if they contract it, given the lack of resources and infrastructure?
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there have been 113,755 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the West Bank and Gaza, including approximately 854 fatalities thus far. This is likely just the tip of the iceberg. In Gaza, testing capacity is severely limited, and the only laboratory capable of processing COVID-19 tests was forced to shut down its operations due to lack of equipment. Haaretz reported last week that 2,000 – 2,500 tests are carried out daily, with a 30% positivity rate.
Gaza’s Ministry of Health estimates that there are currently 10,591 active cases in Gaza, out of a total population of 2 million. Gazan health officials expect these numbers to grow and are desperately trying to increase hospital capacity for those seriously affected by the virus. According to Haaretz, currently, 375 patients are hospitalized, including 157 patients on ventilators.
In addition to hearing about Gaza’s needs for combating COVID-19, the PHRI delegation performed 12 complex surgical procedures in southern Gaza and in Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. The doctors brought equipment for joint-replacement and for stomach, chest and hematological surgery, as well as insulin for diabetic patients.
A member of the PHRI delegation, Dr. Iyad Khamaysi, Head of the Endoscopy Unit at Haifa’s Rambam Hospital, told Haaretz that Gaza’s health system was in serious distress. “You have to remember that the workforce and the hospitals themselves have very limited resources and they suffered from a lack of medicines even before the coronavirus.”
Gaza has an excessive number of patients who suffer from cancer and chronic diseases. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Khan Younis Hospital has been completely dedicated to treating the virus, and patients there were transferred to inadequate facilities. “I encountered some very tough cases of people who had had transplants and needed treatment and medicine that cannot be provided,” Dr. Khamaysi said.
Dr. Jamal Dakdouki, a mental health specialist from the Galilee, said that between the health and economic pressures, life was unbearable in Gaza.
Authorities in Gaza plan to impose a general lockdown starting December 15 to contain the spread of COVID-19.