Gaza's hospitals in crisis as electricity emergency drags on

Gaza's hospitals in crisis as electricity emergency drags on
In-depth: Lives are at risk as Gaza's power crisis leads to even basic healthcare services being cut, reports Ghada al-Haddad.
4 min read
28 June, 2017
International health organisations have called for urgent intervention to restore power [Getty]

The Gaza Strip's hospitals stand at the edge of an abyss, doctors have cautioned, as the power crisis deepens.

By mid-April, Gaza's sole power plant had run out of the fuel taht had been funded by the Turkish and Qatari governments three months previously. A shortage in fuel supply means the plant is now functioning at less than half of its generating capacity.

This has had a knock-on effect on most of life's aspects inside the coastal enclave - not least within the healthcare sector.

Hospitals now depend on back-up diesel-powered generators to maintain services. Nevertheless, with such lengthy cuts, the back-up generators can only be used for emergency and critical cases - meaning non-emergency general healthcare is largely suspended.

International health organisations have joined local hospitals in calling for an urgent intervention to mitigate the electricity crisis.

The World Health Organization warned that the ongoing power blackouts and fuel shortages threatened the provision of Gaza's health services and put people's lives at real risk.

Lives may soon be lost in this man-made crisis

The UK-based Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) has also appealed to the international community to take action over the chronic power deficit.

"The fuel shortage has reached crisis point and the cuts in medical services are very real and worsening," said Fikr Shalltoot, director of MAP's programmes in Gaza.

"Lives may soon be lost in this man-made crisis."

The situation at the European Gaza Hospital, the third-largest in Gaza, is dismal. The hospital now works at minimal capacity. Many health services are either drastically reduced or have simply been put on hold.

Doctors have not been able to use MRI scanners since May 4. "The MRI scans are extremely important for the scheduled surgical operations as well as the emergency cases," said Yehia al-Nawajha, a spokesperson for the hospital. "However, it needs strong electricity to function properly, which is unavailable, let alone the total absence of power at the current time."

Patients in dire need of MRI scans are forced to attend expensive private clinics.

The situation in the hospital's intensive care units will become even more life-threatening as the electricity crisis drags on.

"The oxygen ventilator needs 24/7 electricity to work," added al-Nawajha. "If the electricity is out, they usually charge specific batteries especially for the ventilators to let them continue in working. The problem becomes very serious when the charging completely runs out."

Doctors and all medical staff are constantly concerned about the availability of the electricity in the ICU.

Other services such as sterilisation and cleaning services have been affected, which might increase the probability of the rise of infections inside the hospital.

"One out of four sterilisation machines has stopped working," said Alaa Abu Ouda, the head of the electrical department at the hospital. "Only one out of four elevators works now, relying on emergency fuel. All the X-ray machines have stopped working, except for one."

This has led to overcrowding as patients wait their turn at the X-ray room.

If the electricity is out, they usually charge specific batteries especially for the ventilators to let them continue in working. The problem becomes very serious when the charging completely runs out

Dr Ala'a Hilles, the director of the hospital's pharmacy, urged speedy intervention. "The medications storage is very sensitive to temperature, and they might lose their effectiveness in the excess temperatures. Keeping them under specific temperature conditions is, therefore, very crucial."

Drugs to treat tumors, for example, must be kept at low temperatures inside refrigerators, otherwise they will be ruined, putting the patient's life ar great risk.

Dr Hilles added that chemical dosing equipment needs continuous electricity to prepare medication. "Any electricity cut means the patient will not take the required dose at its required time, making a gap in the patient's therapeutic protocol." This could double the suffering of the patients, and increase the demand for expensive tumor medication, for example.

The situation is no better at the Abdelaziz al-Rantisi paediatric hospital in the centre of Gaza City.

The hospital here has also suspended many of its services, including X-rays. "This was necessary to leave fuel reserves for other, more significant departments - like dialysis," said Mohammad Abu Nada, the medical director of the hospital.

Ashraf al-Qedra, Gaza's Health Ministry spokesman, said "the continuous power cuts have explicit threats to the medical services due to the electricity crisis". He asked the Palestinian Unity Government to fulfill its responsibilities towards the Gaza Strip, including in the health sector.

He also appealed to humanitarian and international organizations for a speedy intervention to help restore Gaza's flagging health services.

Hospitals are meant to be a place for recovery and healing, far removed from all political disputes. But inside Gaza's blockaded enclave, it is hospital patients who become the first victims of such crises.

Gaza is truly "unliveable for its nearly-two million people", said Robert Piper, the UN's coordinator of humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.

Ghada al-Haddad is a freelance journalist based in the Gaza Strip. Follow her on Twitter: @GhadaHadad