Health services in Gaza are “decimated”, with medical staff exhausted after three months of war forced to extract shrapnel without adequate pain relief, conduct amputations without anaesthetics and watch children die of cancers because of a lack of facilities and medicine.
Dozens of interviews with doctors and medical administrators in Gaza reveal a catastrophic and deteriorating situation as health services struggle to cope with tens of thousands of casualties of the continuing Israeli offensive in the territory and the effects of the acute humanitarian crisis.
Attention has focused on the direct casualties of Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, but medical specialists are increasingly concerned about indirect victims of the war.
Tens of thousands in Gaza with chronic life-threatening illnesses have gone without treatment for months, and are now “without defences”, their bodies’ weakened by malnutrition, cold and fatigue, doctors say. In one incident described to the Guardian, a child with a brain condition died hours before a UN team arrived with vital medicine.
Cancer specialists told the Guardian they had been unable to treat patients in desperate need, including children with leukaemia or tumours requiring immediate life-saving surgery.
“We have nothing to give them. We cannot operate and we have no drugs at all,” said Dr Subhi Sukeyk, the director general of oncology for Gaza, who is also director general of the Turkish-Palestinian Friendship hospital in Gaza City. The principal oncology department of the hospital was forced to close in early November.
“There are people with cancers that are attacking their liver, bones, lungs. I have to explain their condition to them and that there is nothing we can do. We have leukaemia patients, including lots of children, who have died. They have no defence mechanism, no immune system and in this environment they are very vulnerable.”
Sukeyk said a man had brought his son to him every day for three weeks. The boy has a fast-growing tumour in his throat that will soon block his breathing. “Every day they come and every day I have to say there is nothing we can do. I am a surgeon. I could do this operation without difficulty but we have no facilities. It is terrible,” Sukeyk said.
“Children with… open fractures, partial amputations, open chest wounds, horrendous lacerations… and burns. And that was every day.” Dr Deborah Harrington recently spent 2 weeks in a Gaza hospital. “I feel ashamed and shocked that we’re doing this to fellow humans,” she told me. pic.twitter.com/dIuvP2bK6g
— Christiane Amanpour (@amanpour) January 18, 2024