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Uncounted deaths and broken people: French-Moroccan doctor recalls painful memories of Gaza

March 11, 2024 at 1:28 pm

A Palestinian women holding hands with children at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital following an Israeli attack in Deir Al Balah, Gaza on March 9, 2024. [Ashraf Amra – Anadolu Agency]

French-Moroccan doctor, Zouhair Lahna, has spent decades of his life volunteering in conflict zones around the world, doing his part to help people in need of critical medical care, Anadolu Agency reports.

He was recently in Gaza, his fifth time in the besieged Palestinian enclave. But this time was starkly different than his previous trips, with Israel’s ongoing war having created a health and humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions.

“The smiles of children were the only smiles we saw because the adults and their spirits are broken,” Lahna told Anadolu in an interview in Paris.

Lahna was part of a team sent to Gaza by humanitarian NGO, PalMed Europe, and worked at the European Hospital in Khan Yunis for almost a month.

Like all other medical facilities in Gaza, the hospital is also a shelter for thousands of displaced Palestinians, around 25,000, according to Lahna, who specialises in gynaecology and obstetrics.

READ: Hunger everywhere in Gaza, UNRWA says

“There were people everywhere, inside and outside the hospital. They set up sort of compartments to hide and to have a little privacy. They were just looking for a safe place,” he said.

The hospital was operating well beyond its capacity, catering to an impossible number of patients with limited to no resources, he said.

“The hospital went from 15-20 deliveries per day to 60-80,” said Lahna.

This is because the population of Khan Yunis has multiplied at least five times, he said.

“All pregnant women displaced from the north were there. Even the families who remained in the north sent the women who were pregnant,” he explained.

The hospital has only two operation theatres and four delivery rooms, so the situation was such that we were forced to discharge women just three hours after their deliveries, said Lahna.

There was also an exponential rise in the number of C-section births, from three to 30 per day, he added.

After the operations, the hospital can only keep the women for 18 to 24 hours, at most, meaning they are forced to go back to their tents or other temporary housing with no medical care or management, leaving them vulnerable to super-infections and other problems, he explained.

Uncounted deaths

Lahna spoke about the phenomenon of indirect deaths caused by Israel’s devastating war, which has killed almost 31,100 Palestinians and injured nearly 73,000 since 7 October.

“There was a pregnant woman who left an impression on the whole team at the European Hospital. She was diabetic and was unable to take insulin for three days. She was 24 years old, with one child, and she went into a coma due to blood sugar complications,” he said.

“We could not resuscitate her because of the lack of medical means, so both she and her baby died.”

Seeing a young woman die that way was a particularly emotionally heavy experience, said Lahna.

“This woman is not counted as a war fatality. It is an indirect death. Like many others who die from complications of hypertension, diabetes, dialysis, cancer or other conditions,” he said.

Lahna and his colleagues also secretly went to Rafah for a couple of days.

“It is another world there. We have a city that has exploded from 250,000 inhabitants to 1.4 million, and this is insane,” he said.

“We saw four to five families living in a classroom. Others are living in tents that provide no real protection. It’s like you are sleeping on the street. It’s very hot during the day and very cold at night.”

‘This war is to break women’

Lahna said the conditions imposed by Israel on Palestinians are a deliberate strategy to “break women”.

To achieve the objective of “ethnic cleansing, you start with the most vulnerable, which is children and women,” he said.

“This is what is happening for real in Gaza every day,” he added.

“The Palestinian woman is the backbone of the family. This whole war is made to break women … Everything is done so that the woman abandons her resistance,” the surgeon said.

However, Lahna emphasised the resilience and strength of Palestinian women.

“They are strong. They are fighters with strong convictions,” he said.

READ: 3 more children in Gaza die of malnutrition, dehydration

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