The long queue of anxious parents waiting outside paediatrician Rajaa Okasha’s tent shows how badly his voluntary services are needed after four months of an Israel assault on Gaza that has been especially hard for children.
Working all day under canvas on the sandy ground with hardly any medicine available, he does what he can for an endless line of sick and injured children living through a war that has made almost everyone in the enclave homeless.
Okasha is homeless himself after fleeing his home in Beit Hanoun, the first place targeted by Israel’s ground offensive, and like the majority of Gazans has ended up in Rafah on the border with Egypt.
“When I see a child, I feel the need to offer him treatment and to try and help him,” Okasha said, explaining why he had set up a tent as a free medical centre for children in the part of Rafah where he is sheltering.
A nurse bandages a toddler’s foot, a mother with an exhausted, careworn face cradles her baby, a blonde girl stares out from around a tent flap and there is a constant sound of fussing and crying.
Israel’s war in Gaza since 7 October, has killed more than 28,000 Palestinians and injured more than 68,000 others.
As Okasha examines a screaming baby, squirming with discomfort, a line of parents extends from his desk back through the tent and out into the busy Rafah area where it stands near market stalls.
Overnight, Israel launched an air campaign on Rafah, killing more than 65 Palestinians. The city had been declared a “safe zone” by occupation forces and over a million Palestinians had taken shelter there after being forced out of their homes in the northern areas of the Strip since 7 October.
Okasha, in his blue scrubs and with a stethoscope around his neck, presses a thermometer to a child’s ear. After working in a hospital before the war he relies on donations for the little equipment he has.
“Diseases are widely spread among children in a scary way – especially intestinal infections, viral infections, respiratory infections because of the cold,” he said.
He sees children coming in without adequate clothing and their parents tell them they have no money for more. Most concerning, hepatitis A is becoming rife, he says.
“This is all because of a lack of cleanliness,” he says, pointing to the absence of clean water for drinking or cleaning. Many people in Gaza have been reduced to washing in seawater and drinking brackish, salty water pumped from wells.
Very often, all he can do is prescribe painkillers – which are often absent from pharmacies anyway as a result of Israel’s complete siege on the Strip.
“My son is very sick. He has a fever and diarrhoea caused by the tough living conditions in the war,” said Ahmed Al-Amodi, holding his crying son.
Most of Gaza’s hospitals have stopped working, with some damaged by Israeli bombardment and those still functioning under growing pressure as Israeli troops push closer.
The World Health Organisation has said only 15 of Gaza’s pre-war 36 hospitals are still partially or minimally functioning and a UN survey has found that nearly one in ten children under five are acutely malnourished, as Israel bans the entry of sufficient food for the 2.3 million population of the Strip.
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