UN human rights experts have backed calls for a large-scale international response to the overwhelming health care needs of people living in Gaza.
They also remind Israel, as the occupying power, of its obligation to protect the population of Gaza, ensure its welfare and wellbeing, and to allow and facilitate access to health care to people in need.
Health care in Gaza – already precarious in the wake of an 11-year blockade by Israel and periods of non-cooperation by the Palestinian Authority – has been further impacted by the high rate of casualties from Israeli military fire on Gazan protesters since late March.
“We are deeply worried by credible reports that treating, and caring for, the thousands of Gazans wounded by Israeli military fire over the past 12 weeks has strained Gaza’s already overloaded health care system to the breaking point,” said the experts.
According to the Ministry of Health, almost 8,000 Gazan protesters have been admitted to hospital, with more than 3,900 wounded by live ammunition. Many have sustained permanent injuries, including limb amputations. “It is unacceptable that many of those requiring care, which is not currently available in Gaza, have been denied exit permits to access healthcare outside of Gaza,” the experts said.
Out of the 93 applications submitted by Gazans to the Israeli authorities to access health care in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, only 24 were approved. Forty-nine were denied and 20 are still pending. “Denial of access to urgent health care to seriously wounded Gazans outside the strip is a violation of the right to health,” said the experts.
The experts said that hospital patients in Gaza have been discharged prematurely to allow for new casualties to be treated. About 6,000 elective surgeries have been postponed. Essential medicines are running short, specialised surgical care is running short and long-term rehabilitation services are being severely strained by the many Gazans with limb amputations and serious injuries. The disabling impact on the injured and the financial cost to them, their families and to the Gazan health services is huge and long-term, they said.
While international fund-raising has gathered more than $US6 million to meet some of the immediate needs, almost $US13 million still needs to be raised, the experts said. The funds are required to deploy emergency medical teams, to ensure pre-hospital care by trauma teams, to purchase much-needed medicines and to enhance the rehabilitative services for post-operative casualties.
“This sum is a fraction of the more than $500 million requested to meet the humanitarian needs of Gaza and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territory,” the experts said. “We urge the world to be generous.”
The UN experts praised the response by international and local health NGOs and UN agencies to the crisis in Gaza. They pointed to the work of these organisations to provide the timely delivery of health care teams, medicines, health supplies and assistive devices.
Gaza is suffering from a long-term health crisis. The Israeli blockade, three devastating wars, a harmful split in Palestinian unity and poorly paid health workers has meant that the availability of medical services and hospitals beds are seriously inadequate to service the many health needs of the two million Gazans. A meager electrical power supply, a badly-depleted water aquifer, the inability to treat sewage and the world’s highest unemployment rates have only intensified the social-health crisis.
“We endorse the call of the UN Secretary-General for Israel to end its unlawful blockade and to be an active partner to enabling Gaza to rebuild its economy and resuscitate its health care sector,” said the human rights experts. “The short-term responses to Gaza’s current health crisis must go hand-in-hand with decisive steps to change Gaza’s future for the better.
“In addition to its obligations under International Humanitarian Law as the occupying power, Israel has the obligation to respect and ensure the respect of the human rights of the people in Gaza, including their right to health. The Palestinian authorities also bear human rights obligations towards the population of Gaza.”