GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza have sought care at a military field hospital set up by Morocco that opened its doors June 12. The facility's goal is primarily to assist with medical care for Palestinians injured during the Great Return March in light of the medicine shortages and lack of resources at local hospitals.
The medical equipment arrived on June 8 as part of an aid convoy led by Ahmed Tazi, Morocco’s ambassador to Egypt. Also arriving were 165 Moroccan physicians, nurses and media personnel, along with 56 tons of foodstuffs, which were delivered to the Palestine Red Crescent Society, and 25 tons of emergency medicines, which were distributed among Gazan hospitals.
In a May 27 statement, Morocco’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation expressed its intent to set up a surgical field hospital in Gaza at the behest of King Mohammed VI to ease the health care crisis stemming from the Great Return March, in which 127 Palestinians were killed and 14,700 wounded, according to figures released June 8 by Gaza’s Ministry of Health. The protest march began March 30, Land Day, to call attention to the Palestinians' dispossession and to demand that Palestinian refugees be allowed to return to the cities and villages from which they or their families were displaced in 1948.
Upon arriving at the Rafah border crossing, Tazi told the press, “The Moroccan humanitarian aid transported to the Gaza Strip via Egypt was carried in 17 planes.” He explained that the convoy included a field hospital, a team of doctors and a group of technicians tasked with management duties.
Moroccan chief physician Ahmed Abu Naim, also a colonel, told Al-Monitor that the hospital’s medical staff consists of 13 doctors, 21 nurses and administrative and logistics staff. He added that the field hospital, typically configured to accommodate 30 beds, can be expanded to fit up to 60 when needed.
Abu Naim indicated that the hospital processed 1,200 cases on its first day of operation and has dedicated sections for orthopedic, ocular, gastrointestinal and vascular surgery as well as for otolaryngology and obstetrics and gynecology. He added, “The field hospital is equipped with a lab for medical and radiological exams in addition to an emergency room.”
At the hospital, Al-Monitor spoke with Gaza City resident Ali Saeedi, who was admitted to a hospital with gunshot wounds to his leg inflicted by Israeli soldiers on May 14 during the Great Return March.
“I was transferred to Al-Shifa Hospital for treatment after being wounded,” Saeedi recounted. “I had to wait three days for my surgery due to the mass influx of wounded. I was then asked to leave the hospital only six hours after the surgery.”
Saeedi was visiting the field hospital for his follow-up examination, to make sure the procedure had been successful. Postoperative appointments are either unavailable or delayed at Gaza's hospitals due to the hospitals being ill-equipped and overburdened with patients.
Moukhles Abu Daqqa, from Khan Yunis, came to the field hospital to get antibiotics against infection. Four days earlier, he had had a third surgery for a forearm fracture caused by Israeli gunfire at the Great Return March.
Abu Daqqa told Al-Monitor, “Doctors have requested that I purchase the necessary antibiotics at a pharmacy after each of the surgeries I have undergone because of antibiotic shortages in hospitals. There are times that I can’t afford to pay, because I'm unemployed. This is why I came to the Moroccan hospital to obtain the medicine.”
He said that the Moroccans provided excellent service, which included X-rays to assess how his arm is healing. “I wish all of the wounded in the march could get such health care service,” which is free, he said.
Ashraf al-Qudra, the spokesman for Gaza's Ministry of Health, told Al-Monitor that the Moroccan hospital's biggest service is filling the gap in medicines and beds.
He added, “Nearly 15,000 cases of injuries were handled during the Great Return March, but shortages, such as an insufficient number of hospital beds, have forced us to send home hundreds of wounded after providing them with preliminary health care in order to make room for others.”
Qudra noted that march casualties exceeded all expectations as well as all local hospitals’ capacities. He indicated that 51% of the cases were live ammunition injuries: 4.5% to the abdomen and pelvis, 6.9% to the head and neck, 13% to the upper limbs and 62.3% to the lower limbs. “In addition, there are 43 victims with amputations, including 37 lower-limb amputee victims and six upper-limb amputee victims.”
Ashraf Abu Mahadi, the director-general of International Cooperation at Gaza's Ministry of Health, told Al-Monitor, “The Moroccan hospital was set up following the ministry’s repeated calls to save the day in the health sector in the Gaza Strip.”
He said that the Ministry of Health and the Moroccans had agreed to the hospital being set up in the city of Zahraa, in central Gaza, so as not to overly burden patients at a distance by requiring them to travel significantly farther than others.
Abu Mahadi said that Morocco is the only party, Arab and non-Arab, that has felt compelled to assist Gaza with health care support. He called for additional field hospitals to keep down the death rate given the large number of wounded and the limited capacities of local hospitals.
Abu Mahadi said the ministry will continue to communicate with Arab and other countries and international health institutions to try to obtain assistance through the dispatch of specialized medical teams and facilities to Gaza, noting that they would also lessen the need for the severely wounded to travel long distances to be treated in Jordan or Egypt or elsewhere abroad.
Abu Naim said the Moroccan field hospital will continue to operate until Moroccan officials order a halt to the mission.