WHO Regional Director’s Statement for Virtual Press Briefing on Situation in Gaza

20 May 2021 – A warm welcome from WHO’s Regional Office in Cairo and thank you for joining us today.

Over the past 10 days, the escalation of violence in the occupied Palestinian territory has resulted in a substantial number of fatalities and casualties, as well as significant damage to many health facilities.

WHO is extremely concerned about the loss of many lives; as of 19 May, 245 people have died, including 67 children, and 6700 people have been injured in the occupied Palestinian territory. The violence has also caused significant damage to multiple health facilities in the Gaza Strip. This includes the almost total destruction of Hala Al Shawa primary care clinic and substantial damage to the central testing laboratory for COVID-19 at Rimal clinic in Gaza City. The latter incident resulted in the severe injury of a doctor who was on duty at the time, who is currently in an intensive care unit.

In the Gaza Strip, the severity of injuries is straining an already overwhelmed health system that is facing critical shortages of essential medicines and supplies while also battling the COVID-19 pandemic. Closure of entry and exit points for patients and humanitarian health teams, and severe restrictions on the entry of medical supplies, is exacerbating this public health crisis.

In the West Bank, there has been obstruction of medical teams to accessing casualties, beating, and injuring of health care workers, damage, detention and confiscation of ambulances, and incursion into health facilities.

Health care staff working under already challenging conditions and with limited resources should not have to live in fear of these attacks. The populations they serve cannot afford to be deprived of essential health services so badly needed at this time.

Attacks against health care facilities and staff should be a red line for any conflict; they should not be targets – nor should they be impacted by so-called “collateral damage”. WHO calls for the immediate cessation of hostilities and an end to attacks that either directly or indirectly impact health care in the occupied Palestinian territory.

WHO also calls for the urgent facilitation of humanitarian access to the Gaza Strip to allow entry of essential medical supplies, referral of patients to facilities outside the Gaza Strip, and passage of medical teams and humanitarian personnel.

WHO is working to support the Palestinian health system in its emergency humanitarian response, and we call for the support of the international community in these efforts. I would like to welcome my colleague Dr Rik Peeperkorn, who heads WHO’s office for the occupied Palestinian territory (the West Bank and Gaza Strip) and will update us today on the evolving situation and WHO’s response.


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