Healthcare in Gaza: the healing can’t start until the violence stops

by Nick Harvey, Doctors of the World UK. | Doctors of the World UK- Medecins du Monde (MDM) -
Thursday, 31 July 2014 12:38 GMT

Photo by Giovani Marrozini.

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* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

During the daily prayers in Gaza, one worshipper says “we will pray harder than we’ve ever prayed before”.

But unlike the bombs and rockets which have caused chaos across this small blockaded strip of land throughout July, it’s not known if the prayers are reaching their target.

Some 1,400 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli strikes at the time of writing, most of them civilians including around 250 children. Thousands more have been injured.

The emergency department of the Nasser hospital in Gaza receives about 75 cases per day. Twenty to thirty of them are already dead, often from the same families.

“We are running out of space in hospital for the huge number of bodies that are coming in,” says Dr. Hosam Abu-Elwan, a Doctors of the World volunteer who works at the hospital. “There needs to be lasting ceasefire so we can retrieve the bodies that don’t make it to hospital.”

Continued military operations are compounding a healthcare crisis in Gaza and 23 health facilities have been seriously damaged so far.

Even before this current assault hospitals faced shortages of medical disposables and medicines, and a chronic lack of fuel and supplies. These issues have been exacerbated by frequent electricity cuts of up to 20 hours a day due to the recent bombing of Gaza's main power plant.

"We have been under siege for a long time and this affects how we work,” says Dr. Hosam. “There is a lack of basic drugs.”

Dedicated health staff in Gaza also have to deal with the fact that many of the people who arrive dead or injured are friends and family members. Rami, a nurse in Nasser hospital has seen 10 of his cousins come through its doors.

"Six of them were killed by Israeli missiles, they were civilians and they were targeted in their homes," he says. "The others are seriously injured. They were not just cousins, they were friends."

Doctors of the World (Médecins du Monde) has operated in Gaza since 2002 and supports 11 health centres there, nine of which are still functioning and helping Gazans get vital healthcare. As well as providing essential medical supplies we’ve helped communities prepare for emergencies by providing first-aid training to over 3,000 women and 500 community leaders.

But nothing can fully prepare a community for deafening explosions day and night, week after week.

“We live in an area that’s particularly bad for air strikes, everyday there are 10 to 15 within 50 metres of our building,” says Asma, a mother of six helped by Doctors of the World in Gaza. “We are close to the coast and the bombing from the sea is terrifying.”

People in Gaza are particularly vulnerable due to the movement and access restrictions imposed by the blockade. They have nowhere else to go and could not get there even if they did.

The psychological impact of such an ongoing assault in an enclosed area can be huge and one of the only things people can do is try to distract themselves.

“We still hang on, and pray every night that something is going to change soon,” says Asma. “Tasneem [her eldest daughter] tries to stay busy with something, so she draws. She used to dream of being a designer… but now her only dream is to see an end for this nightmare.”

This current violence is just one in a series of Palestine-Israel conflicts, each creating more disabled and traumatised people.

“My youngest son has difficulty speaking. Doctors told me this was due to the 2009 conflict while I was pregnant,” says Asma.

Perhaps due to the fear caused by the continued bombings, her son has recently become more vocal. He talks, and screams, more than ever before.

“Can a war heal the injuries caused by a previous one?” Asma says, half laughing.

There is indeed much that needs to be healed in Gaza. But any healing can’t truly start until the violence ends.