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Medical shortages threaten lives of Gaza’s wounded

With shortages of medication, supplies and beds, hospitals in the Gaza Strip are unable to provide those wounded in the Great Return March protests with necessary treatment.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Spokesman for Gaza’s Ministry of Health Ashraf al-Qudra announced June 3 that Mohamed Hamadeh had died from the wounds he suffered during the Great Return March. While Hamadeh died a few days following his injury, many of the wounded drew their last breath before or shortly following their arrival at a hospital. According to Qudra, as of June 3, 123 people had been killed during the protests at the Israeli-Gaza border, including a number of injured persons who later died given their critical conditions, the EMTs’ inability to treat them, and shortages of medication, equipment, surgical supplies and beds at the hospitals run by the Ministry of Health. The death toll for May 14, the day the events reached a peak, was 60, according to Marwan Abu Saada, the head of surgery at Shifa Hospital.

Faten Najjar, Hamadeh’s wife, told Al-Monitor, “He was shot twice in the legs May 14. … The doctors said the unavailability of suture equipment used in vascular surgeries made the surgery an impossible task despite his critical condition. Ultimately the surgical procedure was only performed when Doctors Without Borders provided the suture kit. Surprisingly his foot started bleeding June 2. As the vascular surgeon was not present, nurses there tried to stop the bleeding. My husband received 14 units of blood and was taken to the operating room upon the doctor’s arrival, yet he did not make it and died a few hours later. The doctors said that heavy bleeding from the operated leg caused his death.”

Speaking to Al-Monitor, Abu Saada said that all of the six public hospitals in Gaza are short of surgical supplies, making it hard for doctors to perform large numbers of surgeries. It also poses a threat to the lives of the wounded, particularly those suffering from limb injuries, which skyrocketed to 5,400 during the Great Return March, he noted. “The Ministry of Health was forced to put off a number of scheduled surgeries on the wounded in the Great Return March due to the depletion of necessary medications used in surgeries,” he added.

Munir al-Barsh, the director general of the pharmacy department at the Ministry of Health in Gaza, indicated that the acute shortage of drugs is not a new problem, but started years ago when the Ramallah government stopped providing the Ministry of Health in Gaza with its share of medications. He told Al-Monitor that the wounded in the recent protests were admitted to hospitals while half of the medications and surgical supplies were not available. This year, the Ramallah Ministry of Health halted its supply of medications after February and only resumed it in mid-April, during the second week of the Great Return March, providing the Gaza ministry with $3 million worth of emergency and surgical drugs, he said.

He added, “The Gaza Ministry of Health did not obtain more than 17% of its share of medications — which amounts to 40% of the Ramallah Ministry of Health’s medications, throughout the 12-year-long siege. Following the local and international organizations’ responses to the calls of the ministry at the beginning of each year, the latter was able to offer patients partial medical services — nearly 70% of the care they need.”

He explained that “[nearly] 14,000 wounded were admitted to [hospitals affiliated with] the Ministry of Health although there were no intravenous solutions and painkillers. Anesthetics, blood thinners, surgical sutures and bone stabilizers were unavailable for nearly a week prior to the assistance of international institutions, such as the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] and Doctors Without Borders, for which we are grateful. This aid was provided once in the second week of the protests.”

Shortages are not limited to medications and surgical supplies, according to Barsh. He said that there simply are not enough hospital beds, causing a large number of wounded to leave the hospital too soon. There was no need for them to stay at the hospitals because there were no medications, and the hospitals needed the beds for other patients.

The acute shortage of medications at the Ministry of Health prevented hospitals from providing the necessary treatment for wounded protesters. Omar al-Hosh, who suffers from leg fractures and a damaged femoral vein, had to leave Shifa Hospital where the treatment he needs is unavailable. There was no need for him to stay there, and the hospital wants his bed for someone else. His sister Fatima said, “We purchased antibiotics and painkillers at our own expense since they were unavailable at the hospital. Omar left the hospital as he was told that there is no need for him to remain there.”

A number of wounded with injured limbs refused to leave the hospitals out of fear of amputation. Although they are paying for their medications from their own pockets, the doctors’ supervision is paramount. Ghassan Othman, who was also wounded during the protests, told Al-Monitor, “I am purchasing the drugs I need to heal from outside pharmacies, as they are unavailable here at the European Gaza Hospital. I am also buying food despite my family’s poor financial situation. Being at the hospital would prevent any worsening [health] conditions, particularly since the doctors explained to me that it is better for me to have my leg amputated, as the necessary treatment to ward off infections is unavailable.”

The wounded in the Great Return March turned to social media to appeal for help and publicize their cases. While one lost his sight, as his family does not have the means to pay for treatment, others fear limb amputations or death.

While the Ministry of Health has not commented on its inability to perform complicated surgeries on the wounded, it spoke out about the shortages in medications and supplies. Robert Mardini, the regional director for ICRC operations in the Near and Middle East, said June 1, “We [the ICRC] will send two medical teams, medications and medical supplies. Today Gaza is in need of 4,000 complicated surgeries, out of which we will perform 2,000.”

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