Overcrowded hospitals, few supplies causing 'complete collapse' of Gaza health system

Only 14 of Gaza's 36 hospitals are still operating, and only partially.

December 11, 2023, 2:22 PM

The health care system in Gaza is "completely collapsing" with overcrowded hospitals and few medical supplies amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, according to the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders.

Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), was forced to stop providing support to Martyrs and Beni Suhaila clinics in southern Gaza more than a week ago due to evacuation orders from Israeli forces, it said in a statement Sunday.

Since then, MSF said its workers have seen "the complete collapse of health care services in the area, along with the rest of the health care system in Gaza."

The organization also said that in Rafah, a city in southern Gaza that borders Egypt, there have been limited health services. On Saturday, an MSF team started providing support to the Al-Shaboura clinic, where more than 130 patients were treated on the first day, the organization said.

"Every other patient in the clinic has a respiratory tract infection due to prolonged exposure to cold and rain," Nicholas Papachrysostomou, MSF emergency coordinator in Gaza, said in the release. "People are living in extremely poor hygiene conditions. In some shelters, 600 people share a single toilet. We are already seeing many cases of diarrhea. Often children are the worst affected."

The WHO said over the weekend that it and its partners were able to deliver essential and surgical supplies to al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City, enough to cover the needs of 1,500 people. They were also able to transfer 19 critical patients, the WHO said, but it's unclear to where.

Palestinians are treated as they lie on the floor after being wounded in an Israeli army bombardment of the Gaza Strip, in the hospital in Khan Younis, Dec. 5, 2023.
Fatima Shbair/AP

The mission was very high-risk due to intense fighting in the area, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

"The hospital itself has been substantially damaged, and in acute need of oxygen and essential medical supplies, water, food and fuel," he wrote Sunday. "Critically, the hospital needs additional health personnel. We cannot wait any longer for a sustained ceasefire and a safe, scaled-up humanitarian response."

During a special session Sunday of the WHO Executive Board on the health situation in Gaza, Tedros described the overall deterioration of Gaza's health system since the conflict began.

He said of 36 hospitals in Gaza, only 14 are operating, and those are only partially functioning. Out of the 3,500 beds the hospitals used to provide, only 1,400 are now available, and they are all full, Tedros said.

"Gaza's health system is on its knees and collapsing," he said during his opening remarks. "Two major hospitals in southern Gaza are operating at three times their bed capacity, running out of supplies and sheltering thousands of displaced people."

"In summary, health needs have increased dramatically, and the capacity of the health system has been reduced to one third of what it was," he continued.

Tedros added that it has become difficult to resupply health facilities due to heavy fighting and "inadequate resupply" from outside Gaza.

The United Nations General Assembly scheduled an emergency meeting for Tuesday to vote on a draft resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the U.N., told The Associated Press that the draft resolution to be voted on is similar to the Security Council resolution the United States vetoed on Friday.

A temporary cease-fire between the Hamas terrorist organization and Israel ended early on Dec. 1, and Israel resumed its bombardment of Gaza. The end of the cease-fire came after Hamas freed over 100 of the more than 200 people its militants took hostage during the Oct. 7 surprise attack on Israel. In exchange, Israel released more than 200 Palestinians from Israeli prisons.

Meanwhile, in northern Gaza, just five doctors remain at Kamal Adwam Hospital, a pediatric clinic, according to MedGlobal, a nonprofit that provides medical services to refugees and displaced people.

The group's last physician at the hospital, Dr. Hussam Abu Safyia, said it can no longer function due to bombing and depleted medical supplies, and he called for a safe, full evacuation of patients, staff and refugees inside the hospital in a statement on Monday.

Palestinians wounded in Israeli strikes receive treatment at Nasser hospital, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, Dec. 8, 2023.
Bassam Masoud/Reuters

"It had been a long nightmare. I've seen many colleagues die, and countless children lose their lives needlessly," Abu Safyia said in an "SOS" message, according to MedGlobal. "The team at Kamal Adwan is exhausted. We have done all we can for our patients and community for as long as we could. Evacuation is the only way right now."

Since the Hamas terrorist group's surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7, more than 18,000 have been killed in Gaza and over 49,000 others injured, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry and Government Media Office. In Israel, at least 1,200 people have been killed and 6,900 others have been injured, according to the Israeli prime minister's office. Israeli officials say 433 Israel Defense Forces soldiers have been killed, including 104 since the ground operations began.

ABC News' Will Gretsky and Joseph Simonetti contributed to this report.

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