Gaza’s sick, newborns fall victim to power outages

Palestinians in Gaza are suffering, and some are dying, as the Palestinian reconciliation fails to produce the relief they were promised months ago.

al-monitor A Palestinian girl holds her mother's hand as she receives treatment at a hospital in Gaza City, Gaza, April 29, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Mohammed Salem.

Jan 25, 2018

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinians are still waiting to realize benefits from the reconciliation between Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Fatah-led government in the West Bank. They've been waiting since October, and some Gaza residents are quickly running out of time.

Unemployment rates remain high in the Gaza Strip, sewer networks are deteriorating and power cuts have become crippling under a decadelong blockade by Israel. Deadly house fires have occurred repeatedly as citizens resort to using candles to light their homes. And that's not the only lethal consequence of the power cuts.

Fawzi Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shandaghli has been desperately trying to cope with the power crisis to save his life. Shandaghli is suffering from kidney failure and has to make daily visits to Shifa Hospital in Gaza for treatment with a dialysis machine, which requires electricity to run.

Patients without generators can't be treated at home during power outages, so they rush to hospitals to get in line, even in the middle of the night, each waiting for a turn to be treated before the electricity goes off.

"Many patients have died waiting for their turn to arrive," Shandaghli explained to Al-Monitor. "I don't know when my turn [to die] will come. An average of one patient dies every two days."

The hospital’s kidney disease department keeps a death register that includes all the details "about the patients’ sufferings caused by power cuts and delayed access to medicines," he said.

Abdallah al-Kishawi, the head of the nephrology department at the hospital, said, “The health sector in Gaza is hit by hard conditions, namely power cuts and lack of medicine. The unavailability of medicine and their irregular supply limit our ability to resolve the crisis and threaten the health of patients who need [dialysis]." 

He told Al-Monitor, “While there is a large number of patients, the number of hospitals able to provide health services is very limited. There are 10 hospitals in the Gaza Strip, including state and private ones. Only two of these offer treatment for patients suffering kidney failure."

He added, "Al-Shifa Hospital alone provides care for more than 400 [total] patients from all parts of the Gaza Strip. Resolving the situation has become a pressing need. The new political developments would, perhaps, bring hope to the desperate patients," he said of the elusive Palestinian reconciliation.

Allam Abu Hamdah, head of the neonatal unit at Shifa Hospital, told Al-Monitor, “The repeated electricity cuts pose a threat to the patients’ lives. There are many newborn babies that require incubators, which are not always available. The babies’ lives are thus in danger as they require immediate care once they are born. … Shifa Hospital does not have a sufficient number of incubators to meet the high birth rate in Gaza,” or a reliable supply of electricity to run them.

“The health sector should come up with a strategy aimed at providing the necessary support for the hospital's neonatal unit to make up for the lack of incubators. According to the latest statistics issued by the General Directorate of Civil Status at the Ministry of the Interior in 2016, 166 babies are born every day [in the Gaza Strip], with an average of seven babies per hour. Yet there are few hospitals in the Gaza Strip able to provide all newborn babies with the needed care, namely an electricity-run incubator.”

More than 2 million people live in the Gaza Strip, an area of only 139 square miles — roughly the size of Detroit but with more than twice the population.

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More from  Hamza Saftawi