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Health Ministry in Gaza warns of "health catastrophe" due to blockade

The Ministry of Health in Gaza has warned of a "health catastrophe" in the beleaguered territory due to the ongoing Israeli-led blockade. Top of the crisis list is the shortage of vital medicines and medical disposables.


Every hospital in the world has an Essential Drugs List (EDL); in the Gaza Strip this includes 480 items, of which 140 have run out completely and 70 are in stock sufficient for 3 months only. Of the 900 medical disposables required to keep patients safe and aid their recovery, more than half have stocks to last 3 months down to being out of stock altogether.

The ministry supplies primary health care centres and hospitals treating chronic illnesses, emergency cases, intensive care and neonatal patients, and provides cardiac care, as well as making provision for all surgery in the Gaza Strip; this costs around $45 million per annum. An appeal has gone out to the international community to help the ministry to fulfil its obligation to provide reasonable health care for Gaza's 1.8 million people. There is an urgent need to cover demand for drugs and medical supplies for at least three months, a ministry spokesman said. Non-urgent operations have been postponed to preserve essential supplies for emergencies. Patients have also been referred to hospitals overseas, but the closure of the border by the Egyptian authorities has complicated this option even further.

The fuel shortage created by the siege of Gaza is also causing major problems for the territory's 13 hospitals and 54 primary health care centres. Not only is the main electricity supply subject to frequent and lengthy power cuts, but the diesel oil needed to run emergency generators is also in extremely short supply now that the tunnels are being destroyed by Egypt, much to Israel's delight.

The lack of fuel has a serious impact on patients who are dependent on electricity to run life-saving equipment essential for intensive care units, neonatal units and kidney dialysis procedures. Ambulances and emergency outreach services are also affected badly.

With an unemployment rate of 28 per cent and around 39 per cent of the population living under the official poverty line, the situation in Gaza is dire. Illnesses caused by a lack of fresh water due to the Israelis' destruction of the water purification plant, and the lack of fuel to pump away and treat sewage, are already exacerbating the crisis in the public health sector in the Gaza Strip. An entirely man-made catastrophe is looming while the world sits and watches, putting political objectives over and above humanitarian concerns and solutions.

According to MEMO's Senior Editor Ibrahim Hewitt, the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip provide the only example of a people bombed to near-oblivion and then prevented by the international community, Israel in particular, from re-building their infrastructure and getting on with their lives. "The victims of Israel's brutal military occupation and siege are portrayed by the mass media as the villains," he pointed out. "It is a unique situation and Israel's supporters in Western capitals share the blame for this collective punishment of a civilian population. Somebody, somewhere, must be brought to account for this crime against humanity."

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