WHO invites international agencies for Gaza field visit to see health challenges
28 April 2015: Gaza Strip – The World Health Organization hosted a Gaza Health Day event for United Nations and international organizations and donor governments with a field visit to damaged health facilities in the Khan Younis district, south Gaza Strip, to witness firsthand the challenges of providing continuity of health care in Gaza.
The head of WHO’s Gaza office Dr Mahmoud Daher directed the field visit to Khuza’a village where the group spoke with local community members at a previously damaged, now repaired, Ministry of Health clinic and at a Palestinian Medical Relief mobile clinic serving displaced families. The visitors also passed the site of al-Fukhari clinic, which was completely destroyed during the summer 2014 conflict. This was followed by a visit to the European Gaza Hospital to meet patients and staff.
At the hospital, senior officials of the Ministry of Health in Gaza highlighted the main challenges facing the sector – chronic shortages of medicines, supplies, electricity and movement restrictions for referral patients. 50% of Ministry of Health staff have not received their salaries in Gaza since June 2014.
Dr Yousef Al-A’aqad, the hospital director, said, “We are facing many obstacles. This is keeping our focus away from development since we are dealing with a daily emergency situation.” He led the group to 3 clinical departments to show the impact that the lack of medicines has on newborns, cancer patients and a hepatitis C patient who require specific medicines that are not in stock, and who must wait for their availability or a referral to a hospital outside Gaza.
Among the 40 participants were diplomatic representatives from Switzerland, Norway, European Union, Korea and Sweden, and representatives from UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund, Medical Aid for Palestine UK, and the Palestinian Medical Relief Society.
“The visit allowed us to engage and understand structural problems and how these problems are affecting the lives of people in Gaza,” UN Resident Coordinator Rawley said. “All should have access to health care”, he continued, highlighting the right to health as a national and international responsibility. He urged the Egyptian Government to open the Rafah crossing, at a minimum for patients and medical supplies, and called on the international community to provide further support for reconstruction and rehabilitation of destroyed and damaged health and education facilities in Gaza.
Dr Rockenschaub, WHO Head of Office, pointed out the poor socioeconomic environment which determines health in Gaza: the high unemployment rate, unsafe water, power shortages, damaged infrastructure and chronic underinvestment. “Donor community support is needed to resolve some of these problems, such as the salary issue for health workers and fuel shortages which prevent surgical interventions to be done on time,” he said.
The event was organized by the WHO Right to Health Advocacy team, which is supported by the Swiss Development and Cooperation Agency. The team will follow up on advocacy initiatives related to improving access into and out of Gaza for health workers and for goods crucial for providing health services.