Julie Webb-Pullman reports

MOH says Gaza’s hospitals confronting new crisis

Ministry of Health Gaza
July 27, 2014

Displaced families in makeshift tents in Shifa Hospital grounds

Displaced families in makeshift tents in Shifa Hospital grounds

Hospitals in Gaza are confronting a new crisis, as patients ready for discharge are unable to leave, taking up hospital beds urgently required for the incoming wounded.

The situation for many of these patients is dire: either their families have been killed or there is no-one to care for them, their homes have been destroyed, or they live in areas under Israeli orders to evacuate and are under threat of being shot if they return.

Several attacks on UNRWA schools serving as shelters for displaced persons have left these already traumatised and still-vulnerable victims too distrustful to accept them as a discharge option. In addition, the over-crowded and under-resourced conditions in the shelters are an unsuitable environment for the recuperating injured, with limited water, hygiene and electricity supplies.

Scores of such patients are in Shifa Hospital alone, and because of the specialist services it offers, they come from all governates in the Gaza Strip.

“From the human point of view we can’t force them out,” said Chief Surgeon and Medical Director of Shifa Hospital Dr Sobhi Skaik. “A patient is not just a medical problem, their social and economic aspects are also important. The medical staff are always trying to work with the patients to find solutions.”

Dr Skaik said the situation is complicated by the fact that there are often several members of the same family hospitalised, with one in the paediatric ward, one in ICU, another in the orthopaedic ward, another in neurosurgery, while other family members are camped in the hospital grounds to be near them or because their homes have been destroyed.

“The hospital grounds have become like a refugee camp,” he said. “The conditions are deteriorating, with rubbish piling up – it is quite dirty and unsanitary, and we cannot discharge our patients into those conditions.”

The Ministry of Health Gaza considers that the minimal requirements for displaced patients ready for discharge are facilities that have beds with bedcovers, water for washing, adequate toilet facilities, and food and drink. They should also be maintained to a standard of cleanliness conducive to wound healing and infection control.

The Ministry of Health Gaza calls on UNRWA and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to immediately ensure the provision of dedicated and adequately-resourced “Recovery Centres” that meet the above criteria, where displaced patients ready for discharge from Gaza’s hospitals can continue to recuperate from their injuries in a safe and sanitary environment, thus releasing their hospital beds for more urgent cases.

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