WHO Regional Director visits Gaza, urges support for healthcare

Dr Ala Alwan, WHO’s Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, made a visit to the Gaza Strip and Ramallah on 11 August to witness first-hand the humanitarian conditions in Gaza and review the damage to the health infrastructure and facilities caused by Israel’s bombardment. He discussed priority requirements with leading figures in healthcare.

Dr Alwan started his mission in Jerusalem where he met Dr Jawad Awwad, the Palestinian Minister of Health, and his senior staff. Dr Alwan visited three hospitals that had been damaged by Israeli bombardment and were no longer functioning, including the Mohammed Al Durrah pediatric hospital in which 30 people were injured on 24 July.

“The level of damage to the health system in Gaza is considerable and requires urgent support from partner and donors,” said Dr Alwan. Up to one third of hospitals and one half of primary healthcare clinics had to be closed either because of damage or because of being in an insecure location for staff and patients.

According to a press release issued by WHO Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office (EMRO) in Cairo, Dr Alwan toured Gaza’s main hospital, Al Shifa, meeting with casualty patients, health workers and the hospital directors who described how the hospital staff had managed to treat the many casualties it received under exceptionally difficult conditions. Dr Alwan congratulated the hospital directors and leaders in the health sector for being able to maintain effective emergency services, even when 240 seriously injured patients arrived at the same time: “Their dedication and highly professional work are greatly appreciated,” he said.

More than 300,000 people have been displaced from damaged homes and have taken refuge in UNRWA and government schools as temporary shelters. Dr Alwan visited one school where more than 1000 people have taken refuge in extremely overcrowded conditions. “I am particularly worried about the risk of waterborne and communicable disease in such settings where overcrowding, poor hygiene and lack of access to clean drinking- water predispose to disease outbreaks. These risks have to be addressed immediately,” said Dr Alwan.

Dr Akihiro Seita, UNRWA’s Director of Health and also a senior WHO official, accompanied Dr Alwan during his visit and highlighted the health challenges in shelters: “While we do our best, we are deeply concerned about the health and hygiene situation in our very crowded shelters. Our efforts are limited as a result of heavy damage to the entire water, electricity and sewage systems.”

Even if the war ceases now, more than 50,000 people will have lost their homes. “Recovery and reconstruction will require an immediate assessment of needs and considerable resources. There is an urgent need to provide mental health support for patients, bereaved families, children and especially for displaced persons, many of whom no longer have a home to go to,” said Dr Alwan.

Palestinian health authorities are planning to refer more patients to hospitals outside of Gaza to access life-saving treatment as well as to reduce the caseload in the hospitals to a more manageable level. Dr Alwan said that there was a need to speed up approvals and procedures to allow these patients to be transported across border crossings.

“Referral of patients outside of Gaza to receive specialized treatment will have to be facilitated at all levels,” urged Dr Alwan.

Dr Alwan pledged WHO’s continued support to the Ministry of Health and to the Palestinian health system in general: “Health workers have been doing heroic work since this crisis began. Our WHO staff in Gaza and Ramallah have been working jointly with the Palestinian health authorities in an integrated way in responding to the immediate and urgent needs to support and sustain emergency health services in Gaza throughout the crisis.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who met with Dr Alwan and his team, thanked WHO staff for their effective contribution and joint work, coordination and partnership with the Palestinian health authorities in Ramallah and Gaza. “WHO is committed to providing support in any possible way,” said Dr Alwan.

New social network platform setup for MENA doctors

A new social networking platform specifically for doctors in the Middle East has been set up. Doxunity.com is a free, secure and collaborative platform aimed at uniting doctors across the Middle East & North African region. Doxunity is built around the needs of physicians throughout the Middle East & North Africa (MENA). The site enables physicians to search for colleagues by educational institution, speciality, affiliations, demographics and languages.

It also enables physicians to collaborate on patient data whilst abiding to patient information privacy laws, thus allowing physicians to ensure proper patient diagnosis. Doxunity’s messaging feature has the ability to upload studies, lab work, samples and medical images for needed collaboration on tough cases. Essentially, Doxunity is a LinkedIn for medical professionals only in the MENA region. Doxunity www.doxunity.com

Government workers to be trained to handle emergencies

The Abu Dhabi government announced that around 70% of all staff members at government organisations and institutions in the UAE capital will be trained how to perform first aid at the scene of an emergency before paramedics arrive.

The ‘Be a Paramedic’ initiative conducted by the Ministry of Interior’s Emergency and Public Safety Department will be run over three years in three phases and will include training sessions on first aid, common health risks and how to use medical equipment.

Lieutenant Colonel Mohammad Ebrahim Al Ameri, Director of the Emergency and Public Safety Department at Abu Dhabi Police, was quoted as saying: “The number of reports for medical emergencies are increasing at a rate of about 5,000 calls annually, with the rise of the emirate’s population and the public’s enhanced ability in communication.”

Al Ameri highlighted the ministry’s recent project for installing Automated External Defibrillators (AED) in the UAE’s most crowded locations such as malls, public parks, and government buildings.

“During the first phase, we placed 200 working devices at 20 institutions across the capital, with the most recent AEDs at Al Ain Zoo and UAE University. During the next phase, schools and government institutions will be targeted. “Over the next five years, around 3,000 of these instruments will be ready at strategic locations across the UAE,” he told the newspaper.

Fake nurses, anaesthetists, lab technicians exposed in KSA

A report released recently by the Saudi Commission for Health Specialties (SCFHS), notes that 828 fake certificates were recently uncovered among health practitioners in government hospitals and clinics.

The report said 929 forgery cases have been discovered in the private health sector since the verification of health practitioners’ qualifications was made mandatory four years ago.

According to the SCFHS report, from the total number of cases in the government health sector, the nursing department topped the list for forgeries at 523 cases, followed by lab test technicians (60), X-ray (47) and anaesthesia technicians (37).

New hospitals for Makkah

In July the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health (MoH) announced a series of health projects in the Makkah region worth more than SR3 billion (about US$800 million)). Some of the hospitals and clinics are already under construction, according to a report in Arab News. Projects include the construction of a 500-bed hospital in northern Jeddah costing almost SR363 million.

The hospital is partially operational, while other works are under way. The project also includes out-patient clinics and kidney dialysis buildings. In the eastern part of Jeddah there is a 300-bed capacity hospital being built at a cost of SR310 million.

According to the report other projects include the construction of a medical tower at King Fahd Hospital in Jeddah, with a capacity of 270 beds and costing SR97.15 million.

Death from heart attack on the rise in young Saudi people

The Arab News, quoting Dr. Mohammed Khalil, a senior cardiology consultant in Saudi Arabia, reports that there is an alarming increase in mortality in young people under the age of 35 due to cardiac arrest.

The newspaper says several doctors have revealed that this is often due to hidden heart defects or abnormalities caused by smoking, obesity and lack of exercise. Other cardiologists estimate that at least four cases of mortality out of 10 are youngsters.

Dr. Khalil told the newspaper that “cardiac arrest normally occurs due to coronary artery disease or heart failure, conditions that are uncommon in people this young, but lately, smoking and obesity have become major risk factors for cardiac arrests.

“We have noticed that around 50% of youngsters we examine suffer from obesity, which leads to diabetes, hypertension and high levels of cholesterol, all major risk factors for heart attacks. Cases of sudden death in youngsters are on the increase. Many of these youngsters die before reaching hospital.

“It is important to spread awareness on this issue and educate people on the importance of decreasing tobacco consumption, taking up regular exercise and eating a proper diet to reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease.”


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