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Source: World Health Organization (WHO)
7 January 2009

7 January 2009

Health services close to collapse in Gaza

The health services in Gaza, already depleted and fragile, are on the point of collapse if steps to support and protect them are not taken immediately. WHO has called for immediate improvement in the situation to make humanitarian health services accessible by the local people.

To date more than 680 deaths (including about 218 women and children) have been recorded and over 2850 people are reported injured. The dead include 21 medical personnel. Thirty more were injured and 11 ambulances were hit in the violence and military activities in Gaza, according to reports from the Palestinian Ministry of Health. The numbers continue to rise and include many civilians.

WHO has established an emergency operations base in Ramallah, jointly with the Ministry of Health to assist in coordination of the health sector response; advocacy for unfettered access to Rafah; tracking medical donations and relief supplies; and planning for re-entry to Gaza should a ceasefire be reached.

In addition to providing surgical kits enough to care for 5000 persons and emergency health kits for 90 000 people for three months, WHO is coordinating the entry of medical supplies in to Gaza. The Organization is also working with the UN agencies and Red Crescent societies to boost operational capacities on the Rafah border to ensure medical evacuations of critical patients and track medical relief items and donations.

From the operational bases in Gaza, Ramallah and Jerusalem, WHO is strengthening outbreak investigation and control due to food and water-borne diseases. It is advocating that environmental health concerns, including sanitation and hygiene, among displaced populations are addressed. WHO teams are assisting medical personnel in responding to trauma and injuries, and establishing a coordination mechanism to ensure joint assessment of the health needs in Gaza.

According to UNWRA, over 13 000 people have been displaced. Support services for health care, safe water, food, basic sanitation and hygiene for the displaced either do not exist or are very limited. If hostilities do not cease, the numbers of the displaced people can be expected to rise.

For both the displaced population and the general population, there is now a serious risk of outbreaks of communicable disease, such as acute respiratory infections, measles and acute watery diarrhoea, all of which have potential for high mortality among children. Mortality among expectant mothers and newborns can be expected to rise and there will increasingly be cases of unmanaged chronic diseases and psychosocial conditions.

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