The World Health Organization (WHO) called for urgent action to avert a humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territories.

WHO reported that the health sector in occupied Palestinian is currently facing an acute funding crisis mainly because of the recent interruption or reduction of support from major donors and delays in transfer of tax revenues collected by Israel.

It added the crisis is seriously affecting the ability of the Palestinian Ministry of Health (MOH) to deliver critical health care services and maintain public health programs.

"The MOH is responsible for more than 60% of all primary health care centers and hospital beds in the occupied territories and for almost half of all maternity beds. It is also responsible for most public health programs. In several districts, it is the sole health service provider," the press release stated. "These vital services must be maintained if a humanitarian health crisis is to be averted."

Due to the funding crisis, staff have not received salaries since March. Absenteeism among health workers is reportedly on the rise. Primary health care centers and hospitals are running out of essential drugs. Several areas are experiencing fuel shortages and are thus unable to provide normal vaccination services, it added.

In response to World Health Assembly Resolution 59.3, agreed at the May 2006 Assembly, WHO organized a meeting on June 12, 2006 to review the current health situation in the occupied Palestinian territory and identify ways of averting a humanitarian health crisis.

Participants included technical staff from the MOH, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Bank, donors and other agencies.

At this meeting, WHO suggested the creation of an interim, urgent, funding mechanism to prevent any disruption of basic services and bridge the current gaps in the delivery of health services and public health functions in the OPT. A more elaborate proposal will be developed with partners in the next two weeks.

In the meantime, WHO said it will continue to work with potential donors to respond to urgent needs.