Gaza Report



Blockade putting people’s
health at risk – UN, NGO’s
call for reopening of borders

 

One year after Israel’s military offensive on Gaza, UN Agencies and the Association for International Development Agencies (AIDA), representing over 80 NGOs, are highlighting the impact of the blockade on Gaza on the health of Gaza’s population and on health services – and are calling for an immediate opening of Gaza’s crossings.

Max Gaylard, the Resident Humanitarian Coordinator for the oPt, said in late January: “The continuing closure of the Gaza Strip is undermining the functioning of the healthcare system and putting at risk the health of 1.4 million people in Gaza. It is causing ongoing deterioration in the social, economic and environmental determinants of health. It is hampering the provision of medical supplies and the training of health staff and it is preventing patients with serious medical conditions getting timely specialised treatment outside Gaza.”

The economy of Gaza is in virtual collapse with rising unemployment and poverty which will have long term adverse effects on the physical and mental health of the population. The environment is also in decline including water quality, sewage and waste disposal and other environmental hazards (including munitions and medical waste) which may lead to long term effects on health.

More than 750,000 children live in Gaza. The humanitarian community is gravely concerned about the future of this generation whose health needs are not being met. The decline in infant mortality, which has occurred steadily over recent decades, has stalled in the last few years.

The lack of building materials as a result of the blockade is affecting essential health facilities: the new surgical wing in Gaza’s main Shifa hospital has remained unfinished since 2006. Hospitals and primary care facilities, damaged during operation ‘Cast Lead’, have not been rebuilt because construction materials are not allowed into Gaza.

Operation ‘Cast Lead’ damaged 15 of Gaza’s 27 hospitals and 43 of its 110 primary healthcare facilities were either damaged or destroyed. Supplies of drugs and disposables have generally been allowed into Gaza – though there are often shortages on the ground. However, certain types of medical equipment, such as x-ray equipment and electronic devices are very difficult to bring in.

Clinical staff frequently lack the medical equipment they need. Medical devices are often broken, missing spare parts or out of date.

Health professionals in Gaza have been cut off from the outside world. Since 2000, very few doctors, nurses or technicians have been able to leave the Strip for training necessary to update their clinical skills or to learn about new medical technology.

This is severely undermining their ability to provide quality health care. Many specialised treatments, for example, complex heart surgery and certain types of cancer, are not available in Gaza and patients are therefore referred for treatment to hospitals outside Gaza.

But many patients have had the applications for exit permits denied or delayed by the Israeli authorities and have missed their appointments. Some have died while waiting for referral.

Tony Laurance, the Head of Office for WHO West Bank and Gaza, said: “An effective healthcare system cannot be sustained in isolation from the international community. Open borders are needed to ensure the health of the 1.4 million people in Gaza.”
 

Gaza children traumatised

Mona al-Samouni, 12, is depressed and has nightmares about the day – just over a year ago – when she witnessed her parents and a number of relatives being shot by Israeli soldiers in their home in Zeitoun, southeast of Gaza City.

Like a number of other children who witnessed horrific events during last year’s 23-day Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip, Mona has become increasingly withdrawn and silent – common ways of coping with tragedies, doctors say.

Statistics about Palestinians who lost their life during the military operation vary, but NGOs place the overall number of persons killed between 1,387 and 1,417.

The Gaza authorities report 1,444 fatal casualties, whilst Israel provides a figure of 1,166, according to the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, also known as the Goldstone Report.  <www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/specialsession/9/docs/ UNFFMGC_Report.pdf>

The killing of Mona’s family is one of the most notorious incidents of last year’s conflict in Gaza and was one of 11 incidents investigated by the UN Mission “in which Israeli forces launched direct attacks against civilians with lethal outcome” and in which “the facts indicate no justifiable military objective pursued by the attack”.

It said Israeli forces “killed 23 members of the extended al-Samouni family” on that day. “There is a significant deterioration in the psychological well-being of Palestinian children who are living in the Gaza Strip, especially after the recent war,” Ayesh Samour, director of the Psychiatric Hospital in Gaza, told IRIN.

According to a study by NGO Ard al- Insan in Gaza, 73% of Gaza children are still suffering from psychological and behavioural disorders, including psychological trauma, nightmares, involuntary urination, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Samour said children in Gaza were being denied a normal childhood because of the insecurity and instability in their environment. He said a culture of violence and death had pervaded their mentalities, making them angrier and more aggressive. A dearth of health professionals in the Strip and a lack of access to medical equipment meant children were not getting the help they needed, Samour said.

Basem Naim, the Hamas minister of health in Gaza, said hospitals and primary care facilities damaged during the Gaza conflict have not been rebuilt due to the blockade of the territory under which Israel bans the entry of construction materials. “Health professionals in Gaza have been cut off from the outside world,” Naim said.

Hussain Ashour, director of al-Shifa Hospital, the main hospital in Gaza City, said they lacked medical equipment and paediatricians.

Project


Save the Children Sweden and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on 25 January launched the Family Centres Project in Gaza.

“The project will ensure that the right to survival and development of children at risk… is ensured through the establishment of 20 Family Centres in different communities of the Gaza Strip,” Patricia Hoyos, director of Save the Children in Gaza, told IRIN.



 Date of upload: 20th April 2010

                                  
 
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