The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) is closely monitoring the health conditions in the Gaza Strip, and the healthcare system’s preparedness to combat the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) and its possible outbreak. PCHR confirms that the healthcare system will not be able to deal with patients infected with the coronavirus if the number reaches a few dozen due to its compromised capacities necessary to treat these patients, especially since their treatment requires medical and laboratory equipment and special supplies and medications that are not available in hospitals and health centers in the Gaza Strip. This is in addition to the already fragile healthcare system in Gaza due to the Israeli closure policy and Palestinian internal division.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Gaza Strip preparedness and capacity to face the Coronavirus at the present time is only sufficient for cases up to 100 or 150; however, if the cases increase, the fragile healthcare system would be incapable of responding to large numbers of patients. The situation requires the intervention of UN bodies, international and local organizations to exert all efforts and provide the necessary equipment, devices, supplies, medicine and medical crews.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) in Gaza announced in its daily report on 28 March 2020, that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Gaza Strip is 9 while dozens of samples are so far under laboratory testing and their results will be published as soon as they are ready. According to the report, MOH follows up the health status of 1,719 of the people who had returned from abroad at quarantine centers across the Gaza Strip, including 983 patients who require direct healthcare in hotels, health centers and hospitals. MOH added that the quarantine will be extended from two weeks to three according to the recommendations of experts due to international reports showing the emergence of the disease after the 2-week quarantine period ends. MOH confirmed that it suffers from critical shortage of drugs, medical consumables, laboratory and blood banks supplies, and limited coronavirus testing materials, putting MOH before complicated and unpredictable challenges.
MOH officials in Gaza said to PCHR’s fieldworker that there is acute shortage in MOH’s needs to combat the coronavirus. Hani al-Weheidi, Director of Information System Unit at the Ministry said that the healthcare sector in Gaza has only 110 intensive care beds for adults, including 78 at the MOH hospitals (Shifa 36, European Gaza 17, al-Aqsa 10, Indonesian 9, Naser 6) while the NGOs has 12 beds (al-Quds 7, Public Services 5, and Military Medical Services 7 at Kamal Owdan Hospital). Moreover, the Private Sector has 13 beds: al-Hayah hospital (8) and al-Helo Hospital (5). According to the hospitals’ report, 72% of the intensive care beds are occupied at the MOH hospitals, i.e. if the coronavirus breaks out, only 22 out of 78 intensive care beds will be available in the MOH hospitals.
Ninety-three ventilators are available at intensive care units beds in the Gaza Strip, including 63 at MOH hospitals (al-Shifa 23; European 15; al-Aqsa 9; Indonesian 10; and Nasser 6) 9 at private hospitals (al-Quds 5; Public Aid 4). Additionally, blood gas analyzers are only available at 7 hospitals: al-Shifa, Nasser, al-Quds, Kamal Odwan, Public Aid, al-Helou and al-Hayat; and it is unavailable at 3 hospitals: Indonesian, European and al-Aqsa.
Accordingly, MOH – Gaza needs to urgently equip additional ICUs, ventilators, and testing kits; as well as, protective gear to protect personnel, medications and medical disposables to combat coronavirus. MOH – Gaza has announced its immediate need for:
- 28 types of medical disposables (emergency list A).
- 9 types of medications specific for treating coronavirus (emergency list A)
- 6 types of COVID-19 testing kits, and laboratory equipment (Immediate need list A)
- Real Time PCR Systems Spectral Calibration Kit (Immediate need list B)
- 6 laboratory testing devices to enhance laboratory capacity (Immediate need list C)
In light of the extreme danger threatening the Gaza Strip’s health sector due to its limited capacities, especially in terms of diagnostic laboratory equipment, medications and medical disposables, PCHR:
- Reiterates that the primary responsibility for providing the Gaza Strip with medical supplies lies with Israel, and it should take all necessary and available preventive measures to combat the spread of infectious diseases and this pandemic, according to Articles 55 and 56 of the 4th Geneva Convention of 1949.
- Calls upon the international community and the World Health Organization to pressure Israel to force it to abide by its duties and to allow the entry of the Gaza Strip’s medical needs, especially medical equipment and devices necessary for COVID-19 medical examination.
- Calls upon the international community and humanitarian organizations to provide aid and assistance to the Gaza Strip’s health sector and to endeavor to supply the needed medical equipment to Gaza hospitals to combat the spread of coronavirus.