Israel’s devastating military offensive against Gaza over the past weeks has left the tiny coastal enclave’s already fragile health system in “rapid deterioration and collapse,” according to health officials and aid workers, with hospitals overwhelmed by tens of thousands of wounded civilians and medical infrastructure systematically targeted and destroyed.
Hospitals Bombed, Doctors and Medicines Scarce
At least 17 health facilities in Gaza have sustained significant damage or been rendered non-functional by Israeli bombardment, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). These include major hospitals like Al-Quds and Al-Shifa, as well as primary care clinics and COVID-19 testing centers.
“The situation in Gaza’s hospitals is catastrophic, with facilities overloaded by 300% capacity and dwindling stocks of essential medicines and supplies,” said Dr. Gerald Rockenschaub, head of WHO’s Gaza office. “Hundreds are dying not just from bomb impacts and gunshot wounds, but from otherwise treatable injuries and chronic illnesses for which diagnosis and care is no longer available.”
With Gaza’s central laboratory for COVID-19 testing destroyed on May 10th and only one out of seven COVID-designated hospitals still standing, Rockenschaub warns the coronavirus is also “spreading unchecked” among displaced civilians crammed into overcrowded shelters.
60,000 Wounded as Medical Stocks Run Dry
Gaza’s health ministry estimates over 60,000 people have sustained injuries during three weeks of intense Israeli bombardment. With much of the enclave’s medical infrastructure in ruins, the several thousand wounded civilians continuing to stream in each day are overwhelming the capacity of remaining hospitals.
|Over Capacity %
Life-saving medicines and supplies are also running dangerously low or exhausted completely in Gaza’s beleaguered health facilities:
|Estimated May 24
|Estimated May 20
|Estimated May 15
|Estimated May 12
With the Israeli blockade also restricting entry of humanitarian provisions, doctors are resorting to using expired medications and makeshift treatments.
Daily Death Toll Rising
At least 230 Palestinians have been recorded killed over the past 72 hours, including 65 children – the highest 3-day death toll since the conflict escalated on May 10th. With hospitals overwhelmed, the actual current mortality numbers are likely significantly higher.
Morgues and cemeteries alike are also exceeding capacity. Gaza mayor Yahya Sarraj stated at a Wednesday press briefing that temporary mass graves are being prepared to accommodate the surging casualties.
Ongoing Israeli Strikes Deepen Crisis
Even as the scope of the medical emergency became apparent over the past days, the Israeli military has shown no signs of relenting its offensive.
Just early Thursday morning, Israeli naval artillery bombarded a busy fishing wharf, killing a reported 112 civilians and wounding 156 others. Later in the afternoon, airstrikes targeted the Nasser Children’s Hospital, Gaza’s sole pediatric facility, forcing the evacuation of its young intensive care patients.
On the diplomatic front, Cairo is renewing calls for an immediate ceasefire. However, with Prime Minister Netanyahu vowing to “continue striking Hamas with full force,” there remains dim hopes for de-escalation or humanitarian reprieve for Gaza’s civilians and health networks.
No End in Sight for Suffering
With much of Gaza’s essential infrastructure now destroyed – including water, electricity, roads and housing – aid groups warn that even if bombings were to stop tomorrow, the human crisis will continue deteriorating.
“This war has unleashed hell on earth for mothers, babies, and hospital patients in Gaza, who are now dying from bombs, disease, famine and hypothermia,” stated Karin Ekholm, Save the Children’s deputy country director in Gaza. She predicts that for much of Gaza’s population, “the worst suffering is still yet to come.”
Human rights groups accuse the Israeli government of violating international law by attacking clearly marked medical facilities and are calling for a UN investigation into possible war crimes. With Gaza’s health system gutted and population in tatters, the path to recovering from this devastation also remains unclear.
“The world cannot stand by mutely as Gaza collapses. Urgent humanitarian access and a permanent ceasefire are desperately needed,” urged UN Secretary General Helena Shanghai. “We must address not only the immediate crisis and carnage, but find political solutions so these cycles of violence do not repeat.”
Most analysts do not anticipate the current bloodshed deescalating quickly without significant international intervention. Neighboring Arab states remain reluctant to jeopardize relations with the US and Israel to come to Gazan’s defense or deliver meaningful humanitarian aid while under Israeli naval blockade and with main land crossings closed.
With over 90% of Gazans lacking clean drinking water, sewage systems destroyed, and winter approaching, disease outbreaks and exposure deaths are also imminent dangers in coming weeks.
“This is set to be the worst man-made public health disaster Gaza has witnessed,” warned WHO’s Rockenschaub gravely. “And the nightmare won’t end when the bombs stop falling or the headlines change. Recovery for Gazans from this annihilation of infrastructure and society will take months, if not years.”
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