Generators have become the only lifeline for Gaza's hospitals and patients who are in need of urgent medical care. However, with limited amount of fuel entering the besieged Strip, even these are likely to cease work and stop providing electricity, risking the lives of more than 5,000 patients, medical staff told MEMO.
According to the spokesperson of Al-Shifa Hospital, Dr Ayman Al-Sahabani, the number of patients who require dialysis has increased from 400 to 720 which has meant that machines are operating 24 hours a day.
The life of these patients, in addition to more than 3,000 suffering cancer and other serious diseases, are at stake… If the generators, which run the hospitals, stopped working for any reason, many of these people will immediately perish.
Al-Sahabani warned that although the hospitals have "big generators, we still do not have sufficient reserves of fuel", adding that many patients would not survive without medical equipment for more than 15 minutes. "If electricity blacked out, a disaster will happen," he stressed.
The warnings come a month after Gaza's only electricity plant was forced to close as a result of the fuel shortage caused by Israel's crippling siege and a week after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused to pay Israel for Gaza's fuel usage.
In an e-mail sent to MEMO, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) said that "32 critical hospital and health services are being sustained [with fuel]", but reiterated that "a brief interruption in electricity would result in an immediate loss of life."
The situation will be immediately life-threatening for 113 newborns in neonatal intensive care units, 100 patients in intensive care and 658 patients requiring haemodialysis 2-3 times weekly, including 23 children.
To combat this, UNSCO said it had set up emergency procedures to "enable up to 1.3 million people to continue accessing critical health services"; a target which would require access to at least 675,000 litres of industrial fuel per month.
However Al-Sahabani says Al-Shifa has not felt the effects of this, nor benefitted from the promises of other aid organisations who pledged to provide $500,000 for fuel to keep emergency services running in Gaza. He explained that, as the Gaza Strip's largest hospital, Al-Shifa needs up to 2,000 litres of industrial fuel every day.
Last week, it was announced that most of the secondary healthcare clinics and some of the departments in the main hospitals were closed due to the lack of electricity, as well as a lack of medicines. Even NGO and charity hospitals have reduced the services they offer as a result of the energy crisis.
"The services of 40 surgical operation theatres, 11 obstetric operation theatres, five haemodialysis centres and hospital emergency departments assisting almost 4,000 patients daily will be interrupted or stopped," UNSCO said in a statement to MEMO.
The energy crisis is not the only issue medical staff are having to contend with, according to the Director of the Medical Equipment Department in the Ministry of Health in the Gaza Strip, Johaina Tabash, hospitals are also reeling from their inability to repair worn and damaged medical equipment, replenish medical supplies or send patients to hospitals abroad for care.
"We do not have spare parts for the medical equipment; therefore, if a major part of any machine stopped working, the whole machine would shut down because we are unable to replace it," she said.
If there is a patient in urgent need of treatment abroad he could die before he is able to travel and if a patient with a chronic disease's medicine runs out, he might pass away before being able to access another course of treatment.
Although this is a major consideration for Al-Sahabani, his biggest fear is that Israel launches a new offensive of the beleaguered Strip further exacerbating the crisis. "Imagine what the situation would be like if there was an Israeli offensive on Gaza."