October 27, 2023
Health Care on the Front Lines of War: State of Health Care in Gaza Amidst the Israel-Hamas Conflict
Faith-based health care providers and international humanitarian organizations have leapt into action, valiantly working to protect human life amid the Israel-Hamas conflict. Since the October 7th attack by Hamas in southern Israel, which killed roughly 1,400 Israelis and foreign nationals, over 2.2 million Palestinian civilians have found themselves trapped in the crossfire between the ongoing conflict. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at least 7,000 have been killed and nearly 18,500 have been injured; of the dead, children account for 41% and women account for 24%. One-third of hospitals and two-thirds of primary care facilities are no longer functional. The WHO estimates that $50 million is needed to supply essential medicines and medical supplies over the next three months alone.
Public Health Concerns
Following the attack on October 7th, Israel declared a complete siege to the Gaza strip, cutting off all electricity, water, fuel and severely restricting aid into the region. Israel also issued evacuation orders for the entire northern half of Gaza, forcing 1.4 million people south amidst ongoing air strikes throughout the region. With so many people displaced, physicians and health officials are warning of a number of public health concerns.
- Chronic Disease Management: The Palestinian Health Minister Mai Salem Al-Kailah is attributed to have said, “The Gaza Strip has run out of drugs for cancer, diabetes, and kidney failure, and there is an acute shortage of medical supplies.” WHO estimates that 350,000 suffer from these diseases and that at least 1,000 patients require kidney dialysis.
- Women and Babies: The United Nations Population Fund estimates there are approximately 50,000 pregnant women throughout the region in need of medical care; roughly 130 premature babies are dependent on incubators to live.
- Mental Health: Emi Palmor, chair of NATAL, an organization operating a mental health support hotline in Israel and Palestine, described a surge of calls within the first week of the war amounting to 25% of their normal annual volume; utilization of the helpline is only growing as the war continues. While millions of Palestinians and Israelis are experiencing significant on-going trauma, the effects and rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) will not be known for some time.
- Food and Water Security: With food and safe drinking water becoming scarce, families are being forced to ration what little they have left. Many are resorting to drinking from dirty wells and the sea – increasing the risk of dehydration and water-borne illnesses.
Hospitals and Health Care Facilities
According to the latest WHO report, the daily use of medical consumables during the war is equivalent to its monthly consumption prior to the conflict. Already 12 of the 35 hospitals and 46 of the 72 primary care facilities in Gaza are non-functional after running out of critical supplies and fuel. Another 13 hospitals have been ordered to evacuate by Israeli officials or risk casualties in air or ground assaults; some of these hospitals are running at over 170% capacity. Evacuation orders are impossible to carry out and risk the lives of thousands of inpatients, particularly the most vulnerable requiring life support.
What is Being Done
Following President Biden’s visit, Israel began allowing limited supplies of aide to be brought into Gaza through Egypt – so far, less than 70 trucks with water, food and medical supplies have made it into Gaza in the first three weeks of the war. According to Oxfam, an international organization working to address global hunger, at least 104 trucks are needed every day to support the people in Gaza. President Biden has also called on congress to authorize funding for military aid to Israel and humanitarian aid to Gaza. On Wednesday, British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak called for a humanitarian pause to allow much-needed aid into Gaza. The U.K. Royal Air Force also dispatched a plane carrying 21 tons of aid to Gaza.
How You Can Help
Visit the sites linked below to learn how your donation can help the humanitarian response.
- Episcopal Relief & Development (ERD), a ministry of the Episcopal Church, is working with the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, which owns and operates the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza that was damaged by an air strike killing hundreds. ERD is working to procure essential supplies like medicine, ICU equipment, fuel, food and psychological support for all people affected by the war.
- The International Committee of the Red Cross has teams in the region working to restore essential infrastructure for health care, water and electricity.
- Doctors Without Borders has medical teams working in three hospitals and several outpatient clinics offering care for people suffering from burns and trauma.
- United Nations World Food Programme is prepositioning much-needed food and clean drinking water to be delivered into Gaza.