Gaza Health Crisis: Doctors Struggle to Treat Hundreds of Wounded Amid Shortage of Beds, Medicine

Surgeons say some patients were put under only partial anesthetization despite serious, complex injuries ■ Patients requiring supervision and treatment released to their homes in lieu of beds

Palestinian medics help a woman who fainted from teargas fired by Israeli troops during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, Tuesday, May 15, 2018
Khalil Hamra/AP

The Health Ministry in Gaza warned Tuesday of the collapse of the healthcare system in the Strip due to a serious shortage of medical equipment and medicine, the worst seen there in years.

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Dr. Yousef Abu Arish, the ministry’s director general, stressed at a Gazan news conference that the healthcare system in Gaza is unable to deal with such a large number of wounded, along with the severe shortage of medicine and medical equipment, which prevents the teams from helping and treating patients shot by Israeli soldiers.

Palestinian protesters carry a wounded woman during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, Tuesday, May 15, 2018
Khalil Hamra/AP

According to official statistics, over 1,500 wounded were treated in Gazan hospitals, 1,359 of them injured by live fire. It was also reported that 54 of the wounded are in critical condition and 75 in serious condition, and due to the serious shortage of equipment and medicine there is concern that some of them need of urgent transfer to other hospitals due to the immediate danger to their lives.

“There are many hundreds of wounded, some of them in critical condition and some in serious condition, which require surgical intervention and operations, and all that requires long-term preparation along with a regular supply of medicine and medical materials,” he said. The Gazan Health Ministry explained that due to the shortage of beds when there are so many wounded, dozens of such patients were released to their homes although their medical condition would require leaving them in the hospital for supervision and continued treatment.

In light of the large number of wounded, the Health Ministry in Gaza on Sunday turned to its counterpart in Egypt and decided to transfer a number of patients via the Rafah Crossing to hospitals in northern Sinai or Cairo, depending on the severity of the injury. In Gaza they even called on Egypt and other countries to send delegations of doctors to the Strip, mainly surgeons specializing in vascular surgery and orthopedics, in order to help the teams that are collapsing under the burden.

At the same time, the United Arab Emirates announced a donation of $3 million to purchase medicine and medical equipment for the Strip. Surgeons said that during some of the operations, patients were put under only partial anaesthetization despite serious, complex injuries, mainly open fractures or serious vascular injuries.

Palestinians protect themselves from teargas fired by Israeli troops during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, east of Khan Younis, Tuesday, May 15, 2018
Adel Hana/AP

“We’re working in inhuman conditions in terms of the extent of the injuries and the number of wounded being brought in at the same time to the shock room and the operating rooms. As skilled as the staff is and as much as they want to help the victims, in the end they’ll collapse under the burden,” said Dr. Mahmoud Matar, a specialist in orthopedics at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.

Dr. Adnan al-Barash said surgeons are dealing with complex injuries, crushed fractures and torn blood vessels, and bullet-exit wounds 15 centimeters wide. “There’s no question that the army is using bullets and very dangerous weapons that leave very complex injuries requiring prolonged treatment, which the healthcare system in Gaza is unable to provide,” he said.

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The Health Ministry said doctors at times had to amputate limbs because they lacked the means to treat the severe injuries and infections to them. From the March 30 start of the Gazan protests until the past weekend, the Health Ministry in Gaza reported 19 amputations of lower limbs and another five of upper limbs, but according to all the estimates, this number will rise significantly in light of the massive shooting of the past two days.

Abu Arish announced that there is an urgent need for $19.5 million dollars for immediate needs. According to the figures he presented, $7.2 million is needed for purchasing medicine, $2.2 million for treatments, $1 million for laboratory materials, $2.1 million for medical equipment, $2.5 million for maintenance and spare parts for the equipment, and about another $1.4 million for maintenance of the ambulances and another $3 million for the public clinics.