Gaza: Chronic Shortages of Drugs and Medical Supplies

Gaza 2010 © Isabelle Merny / MSF

Patients awaiting care in the town of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip.

Health facilities in the Gaza Strip are facing a serious shortage of drugs and medical supplies, the result of the ongoing Israeli embargo of the Gaza Strip, a years-long financial crisis within the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and a pronounced lack of cooperation between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the authorities in Gaza. Cumulatively, these dynamics have already harmed Gaza's health system and continue to threaten the well-being of its patients.

The situation, which has been worsening steadily for several years, deteriorated to an alarming level in 2011. Last spring, drug companies stopped supplying the Palestinian Authority. When Israeli bombs struck the Gaza Strip in mid-August, local health authorities requested assistance from international aid actors working in the area. Since that time, they have asked for donations on a regular, long-term basis, but as of late September, 36 percent of essential drugs were lacking, and only 260 of the 900 required medical supply items were on hand. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) makes regular drug donations in Gaza, but no single humanitarian actor can provide the drugs and medical supplies needed by Gaza's health facilities.

The medical areas most affected are surgery, intensive care (certain anesthetics are lacking altogether), hemodialysis, treatments to prevent organ transplant rejection, oncology, hematology (no coagulants), psychiatric medications (only 33 of the 46 essential psychiatric drugs are available), ophthalmology (all eye surgeries have been halted), maternity, pediatrics and the catheterization laboratory procedures needed for diagnosis and treatment of heart disease. For now, clinics run by the United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees provide access to treatment for patients with chronic illnesses, but the five medical centers that treat kidney disease in Gaza will face drug shortages within a few weeks, putting patients' lives in grave danger.

Since 2008, MSF has regularly criticized the politicization of the Palestinian health sector and the impacts of conflicts, internal and external, on patients deprived of critical medications and medical care. Those concerns have only been heightened by recent developments.