PHRI to COGAT and the Ministry of Health: Israel has a responsibility towards Palestinians’ health in the time of corona

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In a letter to the director general of the Ministry of Health and the coordinator of government activities in the Territories, PHRI recalled Israel’s moral and legal obligations towards Palestinians in the OPT, and asked what plans are in place to address the coronavirus.

Physicians for Human Rights Israel contacted the Ministry of Health and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (March 11) to remind them of Israel’s obligations toward Palestinians living in the OPT. In its letter, PHRI asked how prepared Israel was to provide aid to the strained Palestinian health care system, particularly to the Gaza Strip, in the event of a corona outbreak. In addition, PHRI inquired about which preparations were being made to continue allowing patients, including those with serious conditions, to exit Gaza for treatment during the coronavirus crisis.

Many elements of health care preparedness in Gaza depend on Israel’s control over the crossings between Gaza and Israel and the ongoing siege. Because of this, out of a sense of responsibility, a moral obligation and under international law, Israel should allocate some of its resources to strengthen the Gazan healthcare system to circumvent the existing shortages.

Inquiries regarding the reality on the ground made with officials within the Palestinian health care system and civil society organizations in Gaza have made it clear that Gaza is not equipped to handle a coronavirus outbreak. Despite the measures taken by the government in Gaza to try and prevent an outbreak, the current situation there remains alarming. Gaza suffers from shortages of basic disinfectants, ICU beds, medicine and ventilators. In addition, there is a shortage of medical staff trained in treating corona patients. The existing isolation facilities in the Strip are illequipped to handle an outbreak..

It is important to remember the overall condition of Gaza’s health care system: restrictions on the entry of supplies and medicine, restrictions on travel by medical crews and on their access to crucial training, which have produced a shortage of specialists. Public health conditions in Gaza are also extremely poor with an ongoing water and electricity crisis, high poverty and unemployment rates and overcrowding.

Given all this, we asked that Israel see to it that items in short supply are provided to the Gaza Ministry of Health in order to optimize its response to the virus outbreak. We also asked that the Israeli authorities enter into a dialogue with the Gaza Ministry of Health to ensure Gaza patients who require non-elective treatment that is not available locally are able to receive it in Gaza, given that they will not be able to exit the Strip as the crossings have closed.