Report. There will only be 70 intensive care units in Gaza. Life-saving drugs, medical equipment, adequate laboratories, swab kits, overalls, gloves and masks to protect doctors are all in short supply.

Covid-19 arrives in Gaza, where healthcare is collapsing

“The news we’ve feared so much has come. We knew it was only a matter of time,” Dr. Ahmad Mohanna, director of the Al Awda non-governmental hospital, tells us with great concern. We asked him to describe the likely scenario after the announcement of the first two positive Covid-19 cases recorded in Gaza: two Palestinians who came back from Pakistan and are now in quarantine. 

“We are all working hard: non-governmental hospitals, private ones and the Ministry of Health, we are all following the instructions of the WHO,” he stresses. “However, we must be realistic: we will not be able to handle a possible massive spread of the coronavirus. In the whole of Gaza, we have only 48 ICUs. The ministry will manage to push the number up to 70, but in any case, they are not enough to assist a large number of infected people in serious condition.” 

Even worse, Mohanna says, “we need to also take into account the scarcity of doctors and nurses trained to deal with such an emergency.” The health situation in Gaza “is the obvious outcome of 13 years of siege of our territory and three (Israeli) wars against Gaza,” he concludes.

There is no lack of willingness, as well as full awareness of the risks on the part of the population. Two quarantine areas have been set up in Rafah to prevent contagion from people returning from abroad, and there are 17 other similar facilities in the rest of Gaza. However, life-saving drugs, medical equipment, adequate laboratories, swab kits, overalls, gloves and masks to protect doctors are all in short supply. It will not be easy to set up isolated areas to treat the sick in the often-dilapidated hospitals when this becomes a necessity. And one must also recall how damaging the chronic lack of sufficient electricity is to the health system.

Qatar will allocate €150 million for the UN mission in Gaza. It’s not a given that this will help avoid a disaster. “Imagine two million human beings living in 365 square kilometers, about 5,400 per square kilometer, the most densely-populated place on the planet. The inhabitants of Gaza are locked in a cage from which they cannot escape,” said Dr. Angelo Stefanini, former director of the WHO in the Occupied Territories and a volunteer in Gaza on behalf of the PCRF-Italy NGO.

“We’re talking about a region with a collapsing healthcare system due to the Israeli blockade and air raids (during the three wars) that caused enormous destruction, as well as a large number of deaths and injuries that have overburdened the healthcare system,” Stefanini told us. “Not to mention the victims of the Great March of Return. It is impossible to think that the hospitals in Gaza would be able to withstand the shock (from the spread of the contagion).”

The health authorities have launched strict containment measures and have strongly advised people that they should stay at home. However, in Gaza, a large part of the population is living in poor conditions and in close contact, especially in refugee camps. Even water is a scarce and hard-to-get resource. And in the aftermath of three wars, a significant number of people no longer have a home to isolate themselves in.

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