Gaza's healthcare structure deteriorating, warns Red Cross

Gaza's healthcare structure deteriorating, warns Red Cross
The besieged Palestinian enclave is finding it harder to cope in the midst of a brutal siege and recent attacks on civilians and infrastructure by Israel.
3 min read
Gaza is struggling to deal with the ongoing healthcare crisis [Getty]

Gaza is facing an "epic" crisis, the Red Cross warned on Thursday, after weeks of violence left more than 13,000 Palestinians wounded and dozens killed, adding even more pressure to the enclave's already overburdened healthcare system.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was stepping up its assistance in the besieged Palestinian enclave, sending in two surgical teams, additional medical specialists, and supplies to help face the crisis.

"The recent demonstrations and violent activities along the Gaza border... have triggered a health crisis of unprecedented magnitude," Robert Mardini, who heads the ICRC's Near and Middle East operations, told reporters.

More than a hundred unarmed Palestinian protesters have been killed by Israeli fire in the unrest that flared up on 30 March at the start of the "Great Return March" demonstrations.

The protests have centred on the right for Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, after they were expelled or left following the 1948 creation of Israel.

More than 13,000 Palestinians have been wounded after Israeli troops opened fire on the protests, including more than 3,600 by live ammunition, some multiple times.

There have been nearly 5,400 limb injuries, ICRC the said.

Mardini said that in the seven weeks since the demonstrations and violence began "we have exceeded the wounded caseload of the August 2014 war".

 "This did not happen in a vacuum," he said. "This epic health crisis took place against the backdrop of multiple, protracted, chronic crises affecting all sectors of life in Gaza."

Warning that the Gaza health system was on "the brink of collapse", he said ICRC would boost its assistance over a six-month period to reinforce medical facilities "which are clearly struggling to cope".

Of the thousands wounded, some 1,350 people have complex injuries and will require between three and five surgeries each, Mardini said.

That is "a total of more than 4,000 surgeries, half of which will be carried out by ICRC teams", he said.

"I think such a caseload would overwhelm any health system in the world."

The ICRC has appealed to donors for a $5.3 million budget extension to fund a new 50-bed surgical unit in the al-Shifa Hospital, medical supplies and other additional assistance.

That comes on top of its annual budget for its work across Israel and the Palestinian territories of around $49 million - far less than half of which is funded.

But while Mardini voiced hope the boost in aid would help, he cautioned that it was far from a permanent fix for Gaza which has sky-high unemployment, limited supplies of electricity and clean water, and a sanitation system unable to cope.

"The whole Gaza is a sinking ship," he said.

And while health workers are focused squarely on "saving lives and limbs", other health services, for instance during child birth or to respond to a heart attack, are suffering, he said.​