January 01, 2009

Three expatriate staff members from MSF were able to join local MSF teams in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, December 31, 2008. They describe the tension and difficulties working in Gaza, with air strikes and bombings making it very difficult for patients and healthcare personnel to move around.

Three expatriate staff members from Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) were able to join local MSF teams in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, December 31, 2008. They describe the tension and difficulties working in Gaza, with air strikes and bombings making it very difficult for patients and healthcare personnel to move around.

“The intensity of the bombing in Gaza is constraining any movement in the area,” said Cecile Barbou, medical coordinator for MSF. “Patients are afraid to go to the hospital for medical follow up and to receive the post operative care they need. Health personnel also fear moving around. Meanwhile, rumors are circulating on an imminent ground attack of Israeli forces.”

While the first days of bombing on Gaza led the hospitals to be overwhelmed by an influx of wounded people, now the health structures are able to cope on a day to day basis. “Initially there was a lot of confusion created with the sudden massive influx of wounded. Little by little the work was reorganized, and now the Palestinian health practitioners have sufficient capacity to accommodate the wounded that are arriving” said Franck Joncret, MSF head of mission.

Since December 30, MSF has tried to re-open its pediatric clinic in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip, where pediatric consultations were helping to relieve the work load at Kamel Edwan Hospital. Bombing in the area on January 1 forced the MSF team to suspend its work only two hours after starting. Meanwhile in Gaza City, few pre-existing patients were able to go to the MSF clinic for their medical follow up. Patients from Shifa Hospital are referred to this clinic for post operative care. Today, both MSF clinics are empty as patients are unable to travel due to the insecurity.

Faced with these conditions, MSF is adapting its response. MSF medical staff are starting to treat patients in their own neighborhoods. “Sixteen MSF local doctors and nurses have taken medical supplies back home,” explained Jessica Pourraz, field coordinator in Gaza. “In this way they’ve been able to treat people who are sick and wounded in their own neighborhoods.”