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Gaza: the crisis past, hospitals and their patients still facing severe hardship

27-01-2009 Operational Update

One month after the start of the conflict, the situation in hospitals is starting to return to normal. In Gaza, however, "normal" is a relative term. Many people who have been seriously wounded or disabled may require medical care for the rest of their lives. And more than just basic humanitarian aid will be needed to keep vital health facilities running adequately.

A nurse cares for a wounded patient.    
A wounded child at Shifa Hospital.    
ICRC staff assessing damage to houses.    

On 27 December 2008, what seemed to be a never-ending wave of severely wounded and bleeding patients started overwhelming hospital emergency rooms. At Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, doctors had to operate on two patients at once in each operating theatre to keep up.

Now, one month later, the numbers of patients arriving have dropped dramatically and the emergency rooms are once again treating patients with less serious injuries. Planned surgery for various diseases that are not life-threatening has also resumed.

Nevertheless, hospitals are still filled with patients who were wounded during the fighting and who now need post-operative care and further treatment. Many of the seriously wounded now have to come to terms with being handicapped for life. An ICRC surgeon and a physiotherapist continue their work at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City helping these patients. The physiotherapist works with amputees in particular in order to prepare them to be fitted with artificial limbs.

" It normally takes six months for an amputee to heal, " said Eileen Daly, an ICRC health coordinator. " As soon as they are ready, these patients will go to the ICRC-supported Artificial Limb and Polio Center in Gaza City to be fitted with a device which, it is hoped, can help them walk again. "

  Short-term emergency aid necessary but not sufficient  

According to initial assessments carried out by the ICRC, the three most damaged hospitals in Gaza are Al Wafa Rehabilitation Hospital and Nursing Home, Al Dorra Paediatric Hospital and the Palestine Red Crescent's Al Quds Hospital, all of which took direct hits during the conflict. Other hospitals, including Nasr Paediatric Hospital, the Ophthalmic Hospital, Al Awda Hospital, and Tel Al-Islam Hospital, also suffered damage, mostly shattered windows from air strikes on neighbouring targets. The ICRC is distributing plastic sheeting and tarpaulins where needed to cover broken windows and holes in the walls and roofs.

Because of the Israeli closure of the Gaza Strip which has now lasted more than a year and a half, hospitals are run down and much of the equipment is unreliable and in need of repair. Some medical supplies, including heavy painkillers and medicines for treating cancer patients and patients with bleeding disorders, are not available.

" Getting spare parts for medical equipment and other supplies into the Gaza Strip on a regular basis is key to addressing this situation – and a matter of priority, " said Pierre Wettach, head of the ICRC delegation in Israel and the occupied territories. " We should do everything possible to avoid going back to the situation we had under the closure prior to 27 December. What we would like to see is the full opening of crossing points, the resumption of normal imports, and the possibility for students and professionals, such as doctors, to receive education abroad, " said Mr Wettach.

  ICRC and Palestine Red Crescent Society activities  
  • The ICRC delivered medical supplies, such as tracheotomy tubes and also ventilator tubing for both children and adults, as well as strong painkillers to the central disposable and drug stores in Gaza City. In addition, body bags were given to the Palestine Red Cre scent ambulance service.

  • ICRC health teams assessed the needs of 12 hospitals throughout the Gaza Strip.

  • ICRC staff collected information on more than 100 people registered by their families as missing during the conflict, in an attempt to find out what happened to them and to restore contact between them and their loved ones.

  • The ICRC provided the Artificial Limb and Polio Center in Gaza City with plastic sheeting to cover the roof and windows broken during the fighting.

  • Together with the Palestine Red Crescent, the ICRC identified 650 partially destroyed houses and 884 totally destroyed houses in various areas, including Tel Al-Hawa, Al-Atatra, Zaytun, Rafah and Khan Yunis. Plastic sheeting was distributed to families who needed it.

  For further information, please contact:
  Dorothea Krimitsas, ICRC Geneva, tel +41 22 730 25 90 or +41 79 251 93 18
  Anne-Sophie Bonefeld, ICRC Jerusalem, tel +972 2 582 88 45 or +972 52 601 91 50
  Iyad Nasr, ICRC Gaza, tel +972 59 960 30 15 (Arabic)
  Yael Segev-Eytan, ICRC Tel Aviv, tel +972 3 524 52 86 or +972 52 275 75 17 (Hebrew)
  Nadia Dibsy, ICRC Jerusalem, tel +972 5917900 or +972 52 601 91 48 (Arabic)