As Israel ramps up COVID restrictions, Gaza's healthcare workers endure increased psychological pressure
The Palestinian Ministry of Health in the besieged Gaza Strip has complained about the shortage of medicines and medical supplies, at a time when warnings are mounting that the Strip is entering a new wave of the Covid pandemic.
After the recent escalation in May, medical centres and hospitals in the Gaza Strip have started to face a serious shortage in medical and machinery supplies.
The Director-General of the Pharmacy department at the Ministry of Health, Munir al-Bursh, confirmed that “the rate of medicine shortages in stores is increasing”.
“The increasing percentage of the deficit puts the Gaza Strip in front of a real disaster in light of the continued restrictions on the entry of medical and humanitarian supplies at the crossings since the end of the last war on May 21."
Doctors, nurses and other health professionals interviewed by Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) report feeling isolated, anxious, under-prepared and under-appreciated during the COVID-19 response
He pointed out that more than 42 percent of medicines are not available at the Ministry of Health in the Gaza Strip, in addition to 33 percent of basic medical supplies.
The adviser to the Minister of Health in Gaza, Fathi Abu Warda, said during a press conference on August 1 that the ministry "is anticipating and concerned about the possibility of the new wave of the Coronavirus arriving in the Strip, which is inhabited by about two million people."
A report published by Medical Aid for the Palestinians (MAP) last month said that for decades, Palestinian health workers have suffered from a deteriorating health system.
The crisis has been compounded by recent Israeli attacks on the healthcare system in Gaza and the West Bank, and the continuing influx of injured people caused by excessive use of force against Palestinian protesters since April.
Doctors, nurses and other health professionals recently interviewed by MAP report feeling isolated, anxious, under-prepared and under-appreciated during the COVID-19 response. Already working under the stress of decades of occupation and blockade, healthcare workers revealed how shortages of medicines and personal protective equipment, restrictions on movement, and witnessing the suffering of patients has left them physically and mentally exhausted.
Whilst Israel had vaccinated more than 60% of its citizens by June 2021, only 9% of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza had been vaccinated during the same period
Al-Bursh further explained that many patients are severely suffering as they have been prevented from travelling to receive treatment following the most recent escalation and that they do not have the appropriate treatment in the Gaza Strip.
“Preventing cancer patients from leaving Gaza led to a significant increase in the number of deaths in the Strip amid the pandemic, due to the failure of being able to take the necessary doses for these dangerous diseases,” he added.
The MAP report highlighted the effect of the inequitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and other essential medical items such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and how it has exacerbated these challenges in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Whilst Israel had vaccinated more than 60 percent of its citizens by June 2021, while only nine percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza had been vaccinated during the same period.
“Working during the outbreak of COVID-19 reminded me of my work during the past wars on Gaza,” said a senior nurse working in a hospital in Gaza. “No drugs, further restrictions on the movement of patients, and nothing to do for my cancer patients other than comforting them and giving them painkillers."
Hassan Baradeya, a laboratory technician in the COVID-19 testing lab at Palestine Red Crescent Society Hospital in Hebron, said, “I was working alone in the laboratory for a whole week, my biggest fear was infecting my family members, so I avoided attending family events for long periods. The isolation put psychological pressure on us at work."
"The international community must support Palestinian healthcare workers and prevent a further crisis in the health system by providing technical, economic and humanitarian assistance"
Hassan added, “Israel controls the crossings and Area C and prevents specialists from moving to complete their work in the fight against Corona, except after coordination and by placing many obstacles on security pretexts that contribute to the spread of the virus.
"I think that the occurrence of another wave of Corona from schools will be the biggest threat, since all students are under 18 and are not currently receiving vaccinations."
Director of the Laboratories Department in the Ministry of Health in Gaza, Brigadier General Mushtaha, says, "What worries us most is the weakness of the capacity, in case the number of critical injuries exceeds the expected limit. We only have approximately 300 beds in our hospitals. In the laboratory department, we were continuously stressed thinking about how to accomplish the large volume of tests that exceeded the limits of our capabilities.
"Medical teams need medical capabilities, including tools and training, to be able to confront the expected wave of Corona," he added.
In order to help combat the new Covid wave in Palestinian territories, MAP has called on the international community to support Palestinian healthcare workers by providing technical, economic and humanitarian assistance, while also urgently taking all necessary measures to guarantee that Israel respects its duties as an occupying power towards the health and wellbeing of Palestinians.
Amani Ahmad is a pseudonym. The author resides in a jurisdiction where the publication of their identity may create security or freedom of movement issue