Gaza: Medical Services Overwhelmed

Access to Health Structures Also Restricted

More than one week after air strikes began on the Gaza Strip, and following the beginning of a land incursion by Israeli forces, surgical services in Gaza are overwhelmed and are in need of surgeons specialized in vascular surgery in order to deal with the increasing number of wounded people. In Gaza City, the intensive care unit at Shifa Hospital has reached its capacity. The insecurity is preventing patients needing post-operative follow up care—and health personnel—from reaching health structures.

Three expatriate Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) staff, including a field coordinator, a doctor, and a nurse, arrived in Gaza on December 31 to reinforce the local MSF team, which is composed of 35 health care personnel. The intensity of the bombing has prevented MSF from continuing with post-operative care in the MSF clinic in Khan Younis in the south; the clinic has been closed since the beginning of the air raids and is now no longer accessible from the north because the Gaza Strip has been cut in two.

In the northern village of Beit Lahia, insecurity there has repeatedly forced MSF teams to interrupt pediatric care activities despite several attempts to carry out consultations and relieve the workload of doctors at Kamel Edwan Hospital. Since the land incursion on the night of the January 3, the intense violence has led MSF to suspend its intervention in this northern area of the Gaza Strip.

In Gaza City, hardly any patients have been able to access the MSF clinic, which provides post-operative and medical follow up for wounded people who are referred from Shifa Hospital.

MSF is adapting its activities in order to reach people in need of medical help who are unable to leave their homes due to the insecurity. Local MSF doctors, nurses, and physiotherapists have taken medical supplies to their own neighbourhoods and are providing care and distributing medical material to meet the immediate needs of patients living in their vicinity. In response to a request from Shifa Hospital, MSF is attempting to send a surgical team into Gaza. MSF is also trying to send a mobile hospital unit with an operating theater and an intensive care unit. Additionally, the organization is trying to send medical materials to hospitals to help them deal with the numerous emergencies and patients they are receiving.

Since July 2007, MSF has been providing post-operative care and physiotherapy to hundreds of people wounded by fighting in the Gaza Strip. In March 2008, a pediatric clinic was opened in Gaza for children under 12 years of age. In Nablus, on the West Bank, as in Gaza, MSF provides psychological, medical, and social support to families affected by violence. MSF also operates a psychological support program in the West Bank town of Hebron. The team is composed of 11 international volunteers and 108 local staff members. MSF has been working in Gaza and the West Bank since 1989.