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Gaza patients die without help, health services struggle to provide emergency care - WHO

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 31 Jul 2014 17:39 GMT
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The remains of a tank shell, which police said was fired by Israeli troops, are seen on the fourth floor of Al-Wafa rehabilitation hospital in the east of Gaza City, July 16, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
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LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Medical services in Gaza are caring only for patients with life-threatening injuries and some patients are dying without treatment, a World Health Organization (WHO) official in Gaza said on Thursday.

Gaza’s packed hospitals can handle only emergency cases because they have limited  medical supplies and electricity, and patients with non life-threatening problems are being turned away or sent to smaller hospitals.

“I can say without any hesitation that people are dying because they are neglected,” Mahmoud Daher, head of the WHO office in Gaza, told Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.

At least 24 health facilities have been destroyed or damaged by shelling since Israel launched its offensive on the Gaza Strip on July 8 after rocket fire from Gaza intensified. Those that are still functioning can barely cope with the flood of casualties.

“I visited the biggest hospital in Gaza, where they described how on one occasion they received 230 injured,” said Daher. “They had to put them all on the ground, they didn’t have (enough) beds, they didn’t have supplies, some people died…”

“Many of (the injured) were (initially) identified as dead and after they reached the morgue they found out they were alive and brought them back. The hospital had to evacuate semi-urgent patients to other hospitals. They are in all the corridors now, in every corner of the hospital.”

Doctors and nurses often work non-stop, staying in hospitals for weeks without taking a break. “The lucky ones will have a few hours of rest and go back to work,” Daher said.

The security situation also makes it difficult for people to reach health centres and Daher said many people hesitate to seek medical help because they fear for their lives if they go outside.

“If somebody has a baby who is in pain, they will try to keep him or her in a secure place until some calm returns so they can reach a hospital,” he said.

It is not unusual for women to give birth at home or in shelters because they are unable to reach health centres, and even U.N. shelters have been bombed by Israel on six occasions.

Medical supplies that normally last a month can be consumed in one day if a hospital receives a large number of casualties, Daher said.

Gaza started receiving extra medical supplies this week, but distribution remains a challenge because of the fighting.

“We need to coordinate every movement of trucks and supplies with the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF),” Daher said.

Health facilities are also struggling with an extremely limited electricity supply.

Gaza’s main power plant was damaged on Tuesday by an Israeli airstrike and the electricity that Gaza receives from Israel has been reduced because of damage to power lines.

“In Gaza the deficit of power before the current conflict was at least 40 percent,” Daher said. “What is coming into Gaza now is only about 10 percent of requirements, which means none of the hospitals and health facilities receive power, apart from one hospital which receives power three to four hours a day.

That means hospitals need to operate power generators, which are not meant to run 24 hours per day. They are back-up for the power grid. But if the generators break down it’s a big problem.”

According to Gaza officials at least 1,361 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed in the conflict, now in its fourth week, and nearly 7,000 have been wounded.

(Editing by Tim Pearce; timothy.pearce@thomsonreuters.com)

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