Wednesday, 17 April, 2024
HomeFrom the FrontlinesGaza doctors ‘leave patients to scream for hours’ as crisis escalates

Gaza doctors ‘leave patients to scream for hours’ as crisis escalates

Doctors across Gaza have described operating on patients without anaesthetic, turning away people with chronic conditions, and treating rotting wounds with limited medical supplies.

“Because of the shortage of painkillers, we leave patients to scream for hours and hours,” one told the BBC.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has described the state of healthcare in Gaza as being “beyond words”, saying 23 hospitals were not functioning at all, while 12 were partially functioning and one minimally.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) says Hamas “systematically uses hospitals and medical centres for its terror activities”, and in a statement to the BBC, said: “The IDF did not ‘attack’ hospitals, but rather, entered specific areas… (to) neutralise Hamas’ infrastructure and equipment, and apprehend Hamas terrorists, while acting with great caution."

It said it was allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza, including medical supplies.

Aid organisations, including the WHO, say there have been “repeated access restrictions and denials”.

Hospitals stretched

Many of Gaza’s hospitals are overcrowded, with limited equipment, healthcare workers say. There are reports that some hospitals in southern Gaza are operating at more than 300% of their bed capacity.

Four field hospitals have been set up in Gaza, with 305 beds combined, according to the WHO.

On Sunday, it said the Nasser hospital in southern Gaza was the latest facility to become non-operational, after a raid by Israeli forces.

The IDF said on Sunday night it had found weapons at the hospital, as well as medicines with the names and photos of hostages on them, and had apprehended “hundreds of terrorists” hiding there.

“Hamas continues to put Gaza’s most vulnerable citizens in serious danger by cynically using hospitals for terror,” it earlier told the BBC.

Yousef al-Akkad, director of the Gaza European Hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis, described the situation there as the “worst we’ve faced since the beginning of the war”.

“This situation was severe before …and thousands more who've been displaced are now staying in the hallways and the public areas.”

The hospital did not have enough beds for those needing treatment, so staff were laying sheets over metal frames and wood, and putting “a lot of patients on the floor with nothing at all”.

Medication and supplies

Doctors are struggling to work with limited medical supplies, and cannot find a drop of oxygen, one said.

“We’re missing anaesthetics, supplies for the ICU, antibiotics and painkillers,” said Al-Akkad. “A lot of people were severely burnt… we don’t have any suitable painkillers for them.”

One doctor confirmed operations were continuing without anaesthetic.

Dr Mohamed Salha, acting director of northern Gaza’s Al-Awda Hospital, said people had been transported for treatment there on donkeys and horses.

“The catastrophe is when their wounds are rotting, as these have been open for more than two or three weeks.”

Doctors, he added, had performed surgeries by the light of head-torches because of electricity shortages.

While there are around 20 000 healthcare workers in Gaza, most are not working “as they are struggling to survive and care for their families”.

Al-Akkad said although numbers of staff and volunteers at his hospital had grown, partly because of people displaced from other areas coming to help, it was not enough to cope with the volume of patients and their injuries.

“One person comes with brain injuries, broken ribs, broken limbs, and sometimes losing an eye… every injury you can imagine.”

He said one patient could need five or more specialist doctors to deal with the range of injuries.

No room for chronic patients

Doctors told the BBC people in Gaza with chronic conditions were paying “a big price”.

“We don’t have beds for them or any potential to follow up with them,” said Al-Akkad.

“For anybody who does dialysis four times a week, now he does it once a week. If he was doing 16 hours a week, it will be one hour now.”

And women are giving birth in tents, but when babies are born, there is no milk for them.

Meanwhile, South African health and social justice advocates are among more than 40 organisations calling for a boycott of Israeli pharmaceutical manufacturer Teva, the suspension of Israel from the World Medical Association, and a pause on research with Israeli organisations.

This week they published an open letter calling on global health organisations to condemn Israel’s targeting of health workers and infrastructure in Gaza, reports BusinessLIVE.

The more than four-month war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas has devastated much of Gaza and destroyed most of its health infrastructure.

Hospitals have come under frequent attack from Israel, which said they had been sheltering Hamas militants and weapons, an allegation which has been called a pretext for destroying the health system.

“The purposive and systematic destruction of the health system … the targeting of health workers, hospitals … ambulances and patients, and blockades on life-saving medical supplies by the Israeli Defence Force, amount to war crimes and genocide,” said the letter.

Among its SA signatories are the People’s Health Movement, the Health Justice Initiative, the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society, the Rural Health Advocacy Project, the Treatment Action Campaign, Section 27, Equal Education and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign SA.

They urged health workers and organisations worldwide to support calls for a sports, arts, cultural and academic boycott of Israel, and to advocate for an immediate and sustained ceasefire.

“The consequences of the targeting of health facilities are clear … Palestinians of all ages have died from lack of care, lack of equipment or treatment options… inability to operate because of damage to generators, lack of electricity to run critical equipment in ICUs, and for neonatal incubators,” said the letter’s signatories.

They called on HIV patient groups and activists to target Teva for boycott, divestment and sanctions, and called on patients using Teva’s generic HIV prevention products to switch to pre-exposure prophylaxis medicines made by other companies.

BBC article – Gaza doctors: ‘We leave patients to scream for hours and hours’ (Open access)


BusinessLIVE article – Global groups urged to condemn destruction of Gaza health infrastructure (Restricted access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Gaza hospitals run out of medicines


Sudan health sector ‘on its knees’ as hospitals close, supplies dry up


‘War crime’ accusations over attacks on Ukraine hospitals and civilians


WHO condemns attacks on Sudanese doctors and medical staff




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