Gaza’s health system is threatened with collapse. Since the start of the “Great March of Return” demonstrations in March 2018, tens of thousands of people have sought care for injury or trauma. As of the end of July 2019, just over one year after the start of the demonstrations, 315 people have been killed– including 62 children – and tens of thousands of people injured, according to the Ministry of Health. Over 7,000 have suffered gunshot wounds, which often require long periods of treatment and rehabilitation. To meet this increased need, UNICEF is working with local and international organizations to support the health system at critical points in the treatment chain. Here two women register at Khan Younis’ Beni Sohayla clinic, one of the medical centres supported by UNICEF through EU humanitarian aid with water and hygiene infrastructure that will keep working, even in times of emergency or conflict.
Gaza clinics on front line in fight to prevent health system collapse
Since the start of the “Great March of Return” demonstrations in March 2018, tens of thousands of people have sought care for injury or trauma.
The high patient numbers have overloaded health care workers and delayed elective treatments. Because of the absence of critical resources in Gaza, where only 10% of families have access to clean drinking water and an electricity crisis impacts water delivery and sewage treatment, clinics like Beni Sohayla have found it very difficult to provide needed care. “Working with poor standards and equipment is manageable, but working in a facility with polluted water is impossible,” says the clinic’s doctor, Ahmad Altaweel. “We are dealing with sick residents that need special treatment and hygienic care.” Here he gives new-born Amneh a vaccination that will protect her from life-threatening illnesses.
Aid agencies are working together to support primary healthcare clinics as an important source of post-operative care, rehabilitation and support for conflict-related injuries. Since UNICEF rehabilitated the clinic’s water network and installed a small solar-powered water desalination plant with European Union funding, Beni Sohayla clinic has been able to stay open and offer its patients clean water, otherwise unavailable. Mona, a patient, drinks from the sink installed in the Beni Sohayla clinic in Khan Younis.
Laboratory doctor, Dr Ulfat, is able to conduct tests and care for equipment using clean water produced at the clinic by the desalinization plant. Previously, water high in minerals damaged the clinic’s equipment. These clinics are life-saving in the Gaza Strip, where 1.8 million people live under a blockade that restricts the entry and exit of people and goods, including medicine and medical equipment.
UNICEF, through a €2.15 million project funded primarily by European Union, constructed a water well and installed solar panels to operate desalinization plants at two clinics. The use of solar energy allows for a reliable source of power despite daily electricity outages throughout the Gaza Strip, and provides contingency power in the case of airstrikes and escalations. Support for the clinics also helps residents obtain on-going care for conflict-related trauma and injuries. UN-run clinics reported that in the year since demonstrations began, 64% of the injuries they treated were moderate or severe and would normally have been referred to hospitals.
This small desalination plant, installed at Beni Sohayla clinic in Khan Younis, is one component of UNICEF’s programme to improve access to clean water for 320,000 people in 2019.The blockade makes it almost impossible for the Gaza Strip’s authorities to carry out large-scale infrastructure development without assistance from the international community, which has to coordinate the entry of blocked equipment with Israeli authorities.
This new infrastructure has a daily impact upon the health outcomes of Gaza residents, especially children and new mothers. Previously, they often sought care at the clinics, only to find them closed or offering reduced services due to the lack of clean water. Some 96% of underground water resources in Gaza are not safe for drinking, according to World Health Organization standards. Here, seven-year-old Ahmad has his face washed to help reduce his fever while his mother seeks treatment for his illness at the Beni Sohayla clinic.
Nearly half of the residents of the Gaza Strip – 48% – are children under the age of 18. Clinics like Beni Sohayla provide a critical line of defence against infant mortality and childhood illness, while also treating conflict-related injuries. A new mother demonstrates a massage technique that her doctor at the clinic showed her to help her baby with stomach pains. Improved hygiene at the clinics increases their use and improves access for Gaza residents to life-saving medical treatment.