January 17, 2009

An MSF surgical team and other personnel entered the Gaza Strip today to provide essential surgical services to people seriously wounded during the last three weeks of intense fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas.

A Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) surgical team and other personnel entered the Gaza Strip today to provide essential surgical services to people seriously wounded during the last three weeks of intense fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas.

The international team is composed of six people - a vascular surgeon, an orthopedic surgeon, an anesthetist, an operating room nurse, a logistician, and a field coordinator.

The team was forced to wait in Jerusalem for ten days until it was authorized by the Israeli government and had security guarantees by the Israeli Army to enter the Erez crossing point in the north of the Gaza Strip, a very dangerous and exposed zone.  Other crossing points into Gaza from Israel were not made available to MSF.  The team entered with a convoy from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and proceeded to Gaza City, where MSF operates a post-operative clinic and provides medical supplies to hospitals.

A cargo freight of 21 tons of medical materials flown by MSF on January 15 from Europe and bound for Gaza was still sitting at Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv on Saturday, awaiting customs clearance.  Among the items are drugs, antibiotics, anesthetics, wound dressings, surgical materials, and two inflatable medical tents that will house operating rooms and a ten-bed intensive care unit for the MSF surgical team to work in.

Additional Medical Teams to Arrive

As of mid-day today, an additional team of three people, composed of a surgeon, an anesthetist, and a field coordinator, were en route from Cairo, Egypt to Rafah, a town on the southern border with Gaza. Upon entry into the Gaza Strip, they will move north to Gaza City.  However, Egypt is requiring written approval for all foreign nationals by their governments to go inside Gaza, a bureaucratic measure creating entry delays.

A third MSF team of four people-a surgeon, an emergency nurse, a logistician, and an emergency coordinator-will arrive in Rafah on Monday.  They will try enter Gaza, and, depending on security conditions, will assess the needs in the south.

Adapting Activities inside Gaza Amid Extreme Danger

Because many wounded and sick people are trapped in their homes, MSF's Palestinian medical staff have been risking their own lives by visiting patients at home to carry out consultations and to provide as much treatment as possible. As of the 14th of January, 317 people were treated by this adaptive approach, among them 92 people under 15 years-of-age and 56 women.

Relative calm in Gaza yesterday allowed for increased activity at the MSF post-operative clinic in Gaza City.  The MSF clinics in Beit Lahia in the north of Gaza and in Khan Younis in the south remain closed due to the violence and extreme insecurity.