Palestinian Health System in Gaza on Brink of Collapse, March 2, 2008

Physicians for Human Rights -Israel: Urgent Update: received March 2, 2008

Palestinian Health System in Gaza on Brink of Collapse

Israeli military forces commenced widespread operations against Gaza on 27.2.08, following the death of an Israeli civilian in a college campus in the south of Israel, and damage caused by a Qassam rocket to a hospital campus in the town of Ashqelon. As a result of these operations 101 Palestinians (according to Palestinian counts), the majority of whom were civilians, have been killed. Two Israeli soldiers have also been killed. This number of casualties is the highest since the start of the AlAqsa Intifada in 2000.

As early as Wednesday at 22:30, Israeli forces shelled the compound of the Ministry of Interior. As a result two civilian structures were severely damaged: the Palestinian Medical Relief Society office and dispensary, including its Mobile Clinic vehicle, and the offices of Palestinian human rights organization Al-Mezan. Both organizations are long-term partners of PHR-Israel and have provided for the rights of Palestinian patients and civilians for many years. 7-month-old baby Muhammad alBurai was killed in the same attack, when his home, adjacent to the compound, collapsed on top of him.

Following a weekend of continuous airstrikes, shellings and limited land strikes, hospitals in Gaza are now finding it almost impossible to function due to massive overload of injured people continuing to arrive for admission today, and since last Wednesday, 27.2.08.

The larger hospitals in Gaza are fully occupied. Since Friday 29.3.08, surgery is performed 24 hours a day in all 12 operating theaters of Shifaa’ Hospital. Medical teams at this hospital are working in emergency mode since 4 days ago. Medical supplies and other equipment are dwindling, and there is a shortage in beds, needles, wound dressings, anesthetics and heavy medical equipment such as CPR machines.

As a result of recent events, the ability of hospital departments to maintain their routine services is impaired. The enormous numbers of injured arriving and the necessity to cover the shortage in beds has forced hospitals to stop medical treatment of dozens of patients, including cancer patients, heart patients and other chronic patients, and to send them to their homes until the end of the crisis.

According to medical information received from Shifaa’ hospital, the majority of injuries are a result of direct hits, shrapnel and shock waves caused by bombardments by the Israeli air force, as well as the collapse of buildings on their inhabitants.

Following basic initial care provided at Shifaa’, and after assessment, the hospital has decided to refer dozens of patients in life-threatening condition with the greatest possible urgency to hospitals outside the Gaza Strip.

Of these dozens, PHR-Israel has received a list of 25 patients, all suffering from explosive injuries, who are in urgent need of medical care and were referred to Israeli medical centers. Fourteen are currently unconscious in grave danger of their lives, seven others are severe orthopedic cases (injuries to lower limbs) and four are severe internal cases. All have submitted requests to exit Gaza via Erez Crossing but have not yet received any response from the Israeli authorities. All the cases are severe and extremely urgent.

Although some patients have been allowed exit for care in recent days, Erez Crossing has been closed since noon today. Hundreds of other injured people, whose conditions allow transport to more distant medical centers, have been referred to Egypt, following an arrangement regarding injured patients between the Hamas government and the Egyptian government. A similar agreement has been reached with Jordan, but patients referred to Jordan must apply for an exit permit via Erez with the Israeli authorities.

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