Op-Ed by: Dr. Hossam Elsharkawi, Regional Director of IFRC MENA
The shelling stopped in Palestine and Israel. But more casualties and suffering are still imminent.
Another battle is underway. It is called: COVID19.
In Gaza, more than 100,000 Palestinians were displaced during the 11 day escalation of hostilities, with many living in schools, in makeshift shelters or with relatives in small apartments. Even as many of these start to move home (those that can, whose homes are still intact), there is a probability they have already been exposed. This means, we are in the middle of the COVID19 incubation period now. In 1-2 weeks, we fear another public health war has started, when the number people infected by COVID19 will start to explode. The humanitarian consequences could be catastrophic.
The health care system in Gaza has already been on the brink of collapse after years of; the decade plus long blockade resulted in a chronic critical shortage of essential medicines and medical supplies. The last 11 days of armed clashes have left six hospitals and eleven primary healthcare centres damaged, with one centre suffering severe damage. The COVID testing centre was also rendered inoperable. PRCS medical teams report ICU beds are full.
With only 6% of Palestinian population having received at least one dose of COVID19 vaccine, I fear to see people die from lack of ICU beds, from lack of oxygen or due to the damaged, semi-functional and already overloaded health care system.
Restrictions and slow processes for the entry of essential life saving supplies for the COVID-19 and all types of needed medical care is exacerbating the ongoing public health crisis. Palestine Red Crescent (PRCS) emergency medical teams, have to transport and care for injured or people suffering from COVID19 without the proper protective equipment.
Volunteers have been subject to many risks. They have been:
– At increased risk of being hit by aerial bombardments during the military operations.
– At increased risk of COVID19 infection while conducting their duties.
– Experiencing the overwhelming stress also associated with the risk of losing or fearing to lose a parent, a relative, a child, or a friend.
They saved lives round the clock. No words can express our respect, gratitude and appreciation.
The only way to really thank PRCS volunteers is to provide them with the proper protection to do their job. Once again, staff and volunteers of Red Cross and Red Crescent prove their humanity in saving lives and preserving people’s dignity. We support PRCS to continue, to recover, and prepare. They have trusted community access, and they need:
– Increased access to help people all over the occupied Palestinian territory. We need to be able to fund and/or send essential medical supplies, medical teams and humanitarian personnel to provide emergency medical services. Time is of the essence.
– Personal protective equipment (PPE) to manage the risky environments, which often include contexts of unexploded ordinances, dangerous damaged buildings and to be protected from COVID19.
Our partners from the Red Cross and Red Crescent family around the world, are ready to extend their support to PRCS, and we hope the world will too.