COVID-19 Delta variant outbreak threatens to deepen wellbeing crisis among exhausted Palestinian health workers
The arrival of the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) threatens to worsen the crisis in the fragmented and unprepared Palestinian health system, and deepen a burgeoning mental health and wellbeing crisis among a depleted Palestinian healthcare workforce.
Doctors, nurses and other health professionals interviewed by Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) report feeling isolated, anxious, under-prepared and under-appreciated during the COVID-19 response. Already working under decades of occupation and blockade, healthcare workers revealed how shortages of medicines and personal protective equipment, restrictions on movement, and witnessing the suffering of patients has left them physically and mentally exhausted.
The crisis has been compounded by recent attacks on healthcare in Gaza and the West Bank, and the continuing influx of injured people caused by excessive use of force against Palestinian protesters since April.
“Our interviews uncover a burgeoning mental health crisis. Palestinian healthcare workers are exhausted and fighting the pandemic alone, without the support they need,” said Celine Jabr, author of a new MAP briefing. “Amid the outbreak of the Delta variant and fears of a second wave of COVID-19 spreading throughout the oPt, I don’t think health workers have the energy to go through this again.”
The situation in Gaza – one of the most densely-populated places in the world – is particularly concerning for healthcare workers’ mental health, who have felt trapped and isolated from their peers in the West Bank and beyond by 14 years of illegal closure and blockade.
“Working during the outbreak of COVID-19 reminded me of my work during the past wars on Gaza,” said a senior nurse working in a hospital in Gaza. “No drugs, further restrictions on the movement of patients, and nothing to do for my cancer patients other than comforting them and giving them painkillers.”
The impact of COVID-19 on the Palestinian health system and healthcare workers’ mental health is being prolonged by Israel’s failure to meet its legal duty as an occupying power to ensure rapid, comprehensive and equitable COVID-19 vaccine access in the oPt. While almost 60 per cent of Israelis are fully vaccinated, less than seven per cent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are.
MAP calls on the international community to support Palestinian healthcare workers and prevent a further crisis in the health system by providing technical, economic and humanitarian assistance, while also urgently taking all necessary measures to guarantee that Israel respects its duties as an occupying power toward the health and wellbeing of Palestinians.