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War on Gaza: Red Cross warns of 'catastrophic' health situation for chronically ill patients

Senior Red Cross official tells Middle East Eye only two functioning hospitals could remain for 2.3 million people, as all efforts are focused on emergency cases
Red Cross staff and Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli jails arrive by bus in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, on 26 November 2023 (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said there is a "catastrophic" healthcare situation in the Gaza Strip, as it warned there might only be two functioning hospitals left for the whole population in the coming days.

Speaking to Middle East Eye, the organisation's chief protection officer, Christian Cardon de Lichtbuer, said the healthcare infrastructure of the enclave had been left in "survival mode" following months of Israeli bombardment.

"There are still three hospitals functioning, and probably in the coming days, only two hospitals for a population of 2.3 million. These are facts, and this is catastrophic," he explained.

Lichtbuer said that all medical teams in Gaza were focused on dealing with emergency treatment, and that meant people with chronic illnesses and conditions were being neglected.

"Think about where you live and think about how many hospitals are functioning around you.

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"Think about how many relatives you have who are currently being treated for a specific disease," he said.

"Anything close to this has simply disappeared in Gaza. The only focus today is on 'saving lives' and emergency response. Nothing more."

Treatment unavailable

The Palestinian death toll in Gaza since the war broke out on 7 October has reached at least 27,708, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, with almost 67,000 people wounded over the same period.

In a statement on Wednesday, the ministry warned that an estimated 11,000 patients and wounded people were in urgent need of leaving the Gaza Strip to receive life-saving treatment abroad.

Of nearly 70,000 people wounded in Israeli air strikes in four months of bombardment, only a few dozen people have been allowed to leave the besieged strip via the Rafah crossing with Egypt.

"There are tens of thousands of people who need medical treatment or services not currently available in Gaza, including for cancer, cardiac surgical cases, chronic diseases, etc," explained Lichtbuer.

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"What we know from the number of patients in hospitals today is that all those who cannot get to the hospital are probably inside their tents, not treated, under cold and rainy weather… and some might be dying from other diseases."

Around 8,000 displaced people have been evacuated from Al-Amal hospital in Khan Younis, which has been under siege by Israeli forces, according to the Red Cross.

A 77-year-old Palestinian patient reportedly died due to oxygen shortage at the hospital, while health workers said the hospital had been hit by shrapnel amid intense Israeli shelling and gunfire in its vicinity.

Hospitals and health workers had been under fire "since day one" in Gaza, said Lichtbuer, a situation that remains unacceptable, he said.

"We will never stop repeating it, loud and clear: both parties should take all precautions when conducting an attack close to a hospital or medical workers. Hospitals and ambulances should be respected."

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