Amidst the recent fragile truce between Israel and Hamas, there’s a temporary calm in Gaza, allowing humanitarian organisations to intensify the delivery of crucial supplies. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) underscores a pressing concern: Gaza’s delicate health infrastructure is now in substantial jeopardy, heightening the risk of epidemics and complicating the detection of infectious diseases. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a press conference convened in Geneva, has highlighted the immediate necessity of protecting the remaining capacity of the health system in this war-torn enclave.
Current Health Infrastructure Status
According to Tedros, only 15 out of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are still functioning, and they are completely overwhelmed. The conflict has taken a toll on the healthcare facilities, with only three out of the 25 hospitals north of the Wadi Gaza river operating at the most basic level. These functional hospitals lack essential resources such as fuel, water, and food, further exacerbating the challenges faced by Gaza’s health system.
Call for Protection
Tedros stressed the importance of protecting, supporting, and expanding the remaining health system capacity in Gaza. The fragile truce, though a step in the right direction, is insufficient to meet the needs of Gaza’s 2.3 million people. The WHO appeals for sustained efforts to ensure the continuity of healthcare services, especially in the face of the ongoing risks and uncertainties in the region.
Risks of Infectious Diseases
The WHO has raised alarms about the increased risk of infectious diseases in Gaza due to internal displacement, leading to overcrowding in shelters and temporary living facilities. Cases of diarrhoea, particularly among infants and children, have seen a staggering rise. Additionally, the agency has detected concerning signals regarding acute jaundice syndrome in the enclave. Tedros highlighted the growing risks of epidemics, including respiratory tract infections, acute watery diarrhoea, hepatitis, scabies, lice, and other diseases in the densely populated area.
Impact on Health Services
Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, emphasised the challenges in detecting infectious diseases in Gaza. With the loss of hospital capabilities and the inability to confirm even basic diseases due to the conflict, a significant blind spot has emerged, posing a substantial risk of epidemic outbreaks. The inability to send samples for processing to Israel or the West Bank further complicates disease detection, creating a critical healthcare challenge in the region.
While the truce has allowed for increased deliveries of essential supplies, the WHO acknowledges that the current efforts fall short of meeting the immense needs of the population. The agency welcomes the extension of the truce but expresses concerns about the high likelihood of the conflict flaring up again, which could further harm the already fragile health system in Gaza.
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The WHO stresses the urgency of making the vulnerable health system in Gaza operational again, considering the immense challenges posed by the conflict. Richard Peeperkorn, WHO Representative in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, highlights the critical importance of preventing further damage to health facilities and ensuring the functionality of existing hospital beds in Gaza.