Published by the Palestinian Center For Human Rights (PCHR) -Ref: 141/2021, Date: 26 December 2021, Time: 08:30 GMT: December 27. 2021, marks the International Day of Epidemic Preparedness, which was observed by the United Nations in 2020 to build preventive capacities to be prepared for future pandemics.

This day comes with the outbreak of the new “Omicron” variant over parts of the world, posing a new challenge for humanity after 2 years of the outbreak of Covid-19.  The world faced this virus with varying capacities due to the difference in health and financial resources for each country.

This pandemic has negatively affected the long-term economic and social development internationally as the global supply chain was broken, affecting the livelihoods of populations, including women and children, and the economy of the poorest and weakest countries.

Over the past 2 years, the hospitals in Palestine worked at a capacity exceeding its capacity within harsh circumstances, including lack of sufficient space, beds, or staff to assist all the patients in critical conditions.

At a time where medical staff exerted all efforts to curb the pandemic due to the growing numbers of persons infected with the virus and its new variants in Palestine, 2021 started with a strong wave of the pandemic outbreak in the West Bank in February succeeded by another wave in the Gaza Strip in April, imposing additional pressure on the already fragile health system that requires additional efforts from the medical staff in terms of the healthcare services provided to the public.

The healthcare system in Gaza faced the Covid-19 pandemic with limited capabilities and health facilities that have suffered at different periods shortage of medical supplies, including the Covid-19 testing kits,[1] ventilators, diagnostic devices, personal preventive equipment for the protection of the medical staff, medicines, and medical supplies necessary to combat covid-19.

Moreover, during the pandemic in the Gaza Strip, the Gaza Strip face critical times in April and September 2021 due to the ongoing growth of infections and high numbers of critical cases and deaths as 189,553 persons were infected with the virus in the Strip while 1691 persons died due to the virus complications.  Also, 532,128 persons received the Covid-19 vaccine, constituting 29% of the whole Gaza Strip population, according to the latest data published by the Ministry of Health in Gaza.

The Israeli occupation deepened the crisis of the health sector in combating the Covid-19 pandemic as the occupation procrastinated the entry of medical supplies such as PCR equipment and kits, ventilators, and x-ray machines.  The Israeli occupation also caused the vaccines the Ministry of Health (MOH) supplied to the Gaza Strip to expire after delaying their entry into the Gaza Strip.

[2] The May 2021 military offensive also aggravated the deterioration of the health system and increased its burdens due to the arrival of thousands of persons injured in the Israeli attacks at the hospitals, thereby affecting the health services provided to the public, including those infected with the Covid-19.

Additionally, the Israeli bombarding of the building adjacent to the MOH central laboratory caused it to stop operations, particularly PCR tests. This reflected negatively on efforts to contain the spread of the virus, especially as more than 100,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes due to the intense bombing of residential areas, as they had to go to crowded shelter centers.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights believes it is essential to promote preventive measures against epidemics in Palestine by incorporating learned lessons from managing the pandemic over the past two years.

PCHR also sees it imperative that mechanisms be put in place to prevent interruptions in basic service provision for the public. It is also important to improve preparedness to counter the spread of omicron as it spreads globally in a new wave of Covid-19 infections, as of this date 23 Palestinians tested positive for the variant in December 2021.

As the Gaza health sector continues to suffer a perpetual lack in capacity, particularly medical devices, testing kits, and well-trained, specialized professional health care providers to deal with such epidemics, PCHR expresses its concern that humanitarian conditions may deteriorate further in the besieged territory.

Predictably, this will reflect poorly on economic and social rights due to complete or partial lockdown measures, which naturally strain different sectors.

On International Day of Epidemic Preparedness, 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 humanitarian organizations specialized in the field of health, primarily the World Health Organization to provide aid and assistance to the Gaza Strip’s health sector to ensure its preparedness for the current and any future epidemics, as an integral part of the broader work on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • Calls upon and to endeavor to supply the needed medical equipment to Gaza hospitals to combat the spread of coronavirus.
  • Calls upon Palestinian NGOs working in the field of health to work closely together and collaborate to increase public awareness of the dangers of epidemics, and to encourage public reception of vaccinations, and to coordinate delivery of accredited vaccines.

[1] PCHR published a press release titled as “PCHR Warns of Repercussions of Central Laboratory’s Suspension of Covid-19 Tests

[2] A press release published by the Ministry of Health on 13 September 2021 on the expiry of 50,000 Sputnik light vaccines after IOF delayed their entry via Kerm Shalom Crossing.”