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
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.
‘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.
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missing spare parts or out of date.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
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
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.”
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/
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”.
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
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
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.
of upload: 20th April 2010