Gaza Health Care System at Risk of Collapse Due to Rising COVID-19 Cases

Israel should provide vaccine to Palestinians in Gaza and West Bank as controlling power, says Physicians for Human Rights group

Jack Khoury
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A woman walks on the main road of Nusseirat refugee camp, in the central Gaza Strip, Nov. 24, 2020.
A woman walks on the main road of Nusseirat refugee camp, in the central Gaza Strip, Nov. 24, 2020. Credit: AP Photo/Adel Hana
Jack Khoury

Senior officials in the Gaza Strip’s health care system warned Tuesday that the system was at risk of collapse due to the sharp rise in the number of coronavirus patients in serious condition and on ventilators. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, since Monday the number of seriously ill or ventilated patients has gone up by 40 and now stands at 226.

According to Gaza health sources, the hospitals and wards treating coronavirus patients are at 90 percent capacity. The two hospitals that were designated to deal with COVID-19 patients in Khan Yunis and Gaza City are full, and patients are now being sent to other facilities.

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A senior official in Gaza’s emergency response team said that until three months ago, they had succeeded in halting the pandemic in Gaza because everyone entering the enclave through the Erez or Rafah crossings had to go into immediate quarantine. But once the virus started to spread, the authorities lost all control.

On Monday and Tuesday a total of 709 new cases were diagnosed, and there are currently 8,723 active cases in the Strip. Eight people died within 24 hours, with the total number of dead as of Tuesday at 210.

Sundays through Thursdays, Gaza imposes a night curfew from 6 P.M. to 7 A.M. From Thursday evening until Sunday morning, the Strip is under total lockdown.

Gaza officials don’t know when coronavirus vaccines will arrive in the Strip and in what quantities. Physicians for Human Rights contacted Israeli Health Ministry Director General Chezy Levy and the coordinator of government activities in the territories, Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun, with a demand to supply vaccines to the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, because they still live under Israeli control. The letter stated that Israel has the legal, moral and humanitarian responsibility to vaccinate the Palestinian population, and is required to do so under international law.

The letter, signed by the director of the occupied territories department in the organization, Ghada Majadle, says that the Palestinian Authority apparently does not have the financial wherewithal to buy the vaccines and distribute them, so Israel should pay for it, without offsetting the costs from the tax money it collects for the PA.

The organization also warned against letting the PA use the Russian coronavirus vaccine, as Palestinian media had been reporting. According to the letter, use of the Russian vaccine contravenes the policy of the Israeli Health Ministry, which only permits drugs that have Israeli regulatory approval to be distributed in the territories. The ban on distributing unapproved drugs is part of the Paris Protocol, which regulates the economic relationship between Israel and the PA as part of the Oslo Accords.

Palestinian Health Minister Dr. Mai al-Kaila said that during the next few weeks the West Bank is to get a shipment of 150,000 doses of the Russian vaccine. This followed a declaration by a senior ministry official, Dr. Osama Anjar, that by the end of the month or in early January the PA was supposed to get 4 million doses. Kaila added that the PA is expected to get vaccines under an international aid program for weak countries, and that at the same time she was conducting talks with pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and Moderna.

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