LONDON — The International Committee of the Red Cross announced Thursday that it will increase its medical assistance to Gaza, following reports that the severity of fighting between Israel and the Gaza Strip has reached a level not seen since the last major clashes in the region, during the 2014 Israeli military excursion Operation Protective Edge.
After the latest casualties, ICRC Gaza spokesperson Suhair Zakkout discusses the challenges of treating thousands of civilians during waves of violence, and what comes next.
“We are dealing with an epic health crisis, with hundreds of people severely injured, so we will basically be scaling up the surgical capacity of the major hospitals in Gaza, the [Al-]Shifa Hospital, sending two surgical teams, scaling up our supplies in terms of drugs, disposables, consumables,” the head of the Middle East for ICRC Robert Mardini told Devex.
“This crisis comes on top of an already very dire situation in Gaza, and we are now dealing with the consequences of the recent weeks of demonstrations and protests, and people killed and wounded,” he said.
Since protests and associated violence flared on March 30, more than 60 residents of the Gaza Strip have died and more than 13,000 have been wounded, including more than 3,600 by live ammunition, some multiple times, for an estimated total of nearly 5,400 limb injuries, according to ICRC figures.
“Such a caseload would overwhelm any health system.”— Robert Mardini, regional director for the Near and Middle East at ICRC
According to Mardini, the boost in support will prioritize gunshot wounds, the most complex of which will require a total of more than 4,000 surgeries — half of those will be carried out by ICRC teams.
“Such a caseload would overwhelm any health system,” he said, adding that in Gaza, the situation is worsened by chronic shortages of drugs, equipment, and electricity.
“It’s not only surgical support, we’d be doing psychosocial support and physical rehab, because we feel the continuum of care is important, that the patients can recover their mobility after the process,” he said.
The ICRC initiative will include the opening of a 50-bed surgical unit as part of a $5.3 million budget extension for Gaza, on top of its almost $50 million annual budget for Israel and the Israeli-occupied territories. The ICRC surgical teams and medical experts will be based in a wing of Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest hospital in Gaza. Other hospitals in Gaza and the Palestine Red Crescent Society will also benefit from the assistance.
Mardini said the greatest challenge for ICRC staff will be the “massive influx of patients” if violence worsens.
“Many of the patients who are not totally treated were discharged from the hospital in order to make space for other patients, so now we will need to find them, get them back to the hospital to finish the job,” he said.