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02.08.2024

Gaza: Health Workers Witness “Inhumane Conditions”

view of tent encampments in Gaza

In Gaza, the convergence of overcrowding, hunger, limited electricity and connectivity, restricted access to toilets and running water, and ongoing violence has resulted in “inhumane conditions” affecting over two million people. In Rafah, where the population has increased five-fold due to forced displacement, Palestinians live in congested homes, tents, and makeshift shelters amidst constant fear and challenging weather conditions. Approximately 500 people share a single toilet, and open defecation is evident in camps. Clean water is difficult to access, as available sources are often contaminated, contributing to the spread of disease. 

Communities in Deir al Balah face isolation from crucial services. Displaced health workers live in hospitals, crammed into single rooms with limited access to food. The hospitals are inundated with patients from Khan Yunis and surrounding areas seeking urgent care for pregnancy complications, life-threatening injuries, and infections arising from poorly managed wound dressings. To address the widespread suffering, Project HOPE continues to advocate for a sustained ceasefire, the release of hostages, and a more efficient and substantial aid delivery process. 

Project HOPE is currently operating a primary health clinic in Deir al Balah which has provided over 4,500 consultations since opening in December. In collaboration with Jordan Health Aid Society – International (JHASi), Project HOPE deployed a surgical team to Al Aqsa Hospital in Deir al Balah. The team conducted 635 emergency consultations, 146 general surgeries, and 10 amputations over ten days.

Dr. Santosh Kumar, Project HOPE’s Medical Coordinator, said:
Dr. Santosh Kumar, based in India, was in Gaza from January 17 – 31 providing support to Project HOPE’s primary health clinic and Al Aqsa Hospital in Deir al Balah.
“I have responded to nearly every major conflict or extreme weather event over the last two decades. I have worked in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somaliland, Ukraine, Yemen, and countless other places around the world. What I witnessed in Gaza was the most devastating and inhumane conditions I have ever seen. People in Gaza are disconnected from the rest of the world. It felt like an open-air prison. Palestinians cannot leave or seek asylum someplace else and very few people can enter.

Rafah is grossly overcrowded. Despite the cold temperatures and heavy rain, people are sleeping on the side of the road, in school hallways, tents, and any makeshift shelter they can find. Diarrhea is very common. When it rains, defecation is spread across people’s living quarters causing the rapid spread of disease and illness. The water in the city is unpalatable and contaminated. People walk around the whole city in search of water and when they find something to drink, they risk getting hepatitis and giardiasis. All human dignity ceases to exist.

I worked for 10 days in Al Aqsa Hospital. There, I slept in a room for days on end with other health workers against the background of bombs and drones. The hospital was overflowing with patients and there were not enough health workers, medicine, or supplies to treat everybody. Many health workers and volunteers from health and humanitarian organizations had relocated.

I operated on a young boy, less than one-year-old. He had to have several of his fingers amputated. His entire family, including eight siblings, died from an airstrike. His mother died on the operating table a few doors down from us and his father passed away days later. Here is a young child who has lost everything before his first birthday.” 

Rondi Anderson, Project HOPE’s Senior Technical Advisor for Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, and Child Heath, said:
Rondi Anderson, based in Washington, DC, was in Gaza from January 17 – 31 coordinating with partners and providing support to Project HOPE’s team in Rafah as they prepare a primary health clinic. 

“People’s lives in Gaza have been turned upside down. Families who used to live in warm houses just months ago now live in freezing cold tents that have a layer of dirt on the ground surrounded by thousands of other people. No one is comfortable. Physically, the conditions are challenging. Mentally, the conditions are cruel. There is a constant state of fear as people wake up and go to sleep every day to the sound of drones and bombs. People grow more agitated by the day. Many women and men showed me photos of their destroyed homes. There is nowhere safe for families to return or flee to. This is their new reality.

Despite the nightmare many Palestinians have found themselves in, I was blown away by the resiliency. Communities have rallied together to advocate for themselves and care for their new neighbors. The only reason the health system still stands is because many displaced Palestinians health workers spend day and night treating patients and coordinating with INGOs and UN partners to procure medicine and supplies.

As relentless violence continues, I am worried about access to clean water – especially for babies who are on formula. This week, 15% of pregnant women visiting Project HOPE’s clinic in Deir al Balah have shown signs of malnutrition. I am frightened this trend will only increase for the 50,000 pregnant women who do not have access to proper food. Most people I meet eat something every day, but it is often just slices of white bread. The limited vegetables and sources of protein are prohibitively expensive for most. This can have serious ramifications for children and individuals who are pregnant and at risk of anemia, prematurity, stillbirth, and other complications of malnutrition.”

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For Media Inquiries: media@projecthope.org

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