The health sector is just as important as other critical sectors in terms of enhancing people’s lives and maintain a safe society. Institutions in this field also contribute significantly to the preservation and protection of people’s lives. In the Gaza Strip, there are roughly 158 health centers, comprising 22 UNRWA-affiliated centers, 51 Ministry of Health-affiliated centers, 5 military-affiliated centers, and 80 NGOs-affiliated centers.
Since the Gaza Strip has been under siege, the health system has faced significant challenges, as the occupation has restricted the entry of fuel into the Gaza Strip, negatively impacting the electricity needed to operate medical devices in medical centers, posing a direct threat to the health care system and having catastrophic consequences for overall health services. The power cut has a negative impact on laboratory and blood bank performance, therefore, the required laboratory tests are not completed, as medical devices require a continuous electricity, especially samples that require storage, such as the coronavirus examination materials, which are stored at a temperature of minus 20 degrees Celsius, and thus the lack of electricity exposes them to damage, and electricity generators are not suitable as an energy alternative because they affect the accuracy of the results and medical devices as well as damaging the electronic pieces. One of the aspects of the siege that directly affects the health sector is the closure of crossings as it poses a catastrophic obstacle to the maintenance of medical devices and equipment that require maintenance, and the occupation authorities obstruct the exit of these inoperative devices from health centers in the sector for maintenance abroad, as well as the entry of some spare parts for those devices from the countries that produce them.
The recent aggression on the Gaza Strip has had catastrophic consequences for the health sector, in light of the widespread of the Covid-19, as it targeted 24 health institutions, including 11 Ministry of Health-affiliated (5 hospitals, 6 health centers) and 13 private health institutions. The aggression has posed a significant challenge to the health-care system, which is striving to slowdown the outbreak of the virus after health-care facilities became overburdened with virus-infected patients and those infected with the aggression, putting a significant strain on health-care personnel, and the total number of martyrs has reached (253), including (66) children and (39) women, while the total number of injured reached (1948), including (540) children and (361) women.
The aggression clearly contributed to the spread of the epidemic after it severely damaged the Hala Al-Shawa clinic, affecting all of its services, including COVID-19 testing and vaccination. The damage to al-Remal clinic also suspended COVID-19 testing services, the direct call service dedicated to providing telemedicine services and the provision of medical consultations to citizens during the aggression and the Corona pandemic.
The people in Gaza Strip suffered from a real hardship in accessing the medical services in hospitals and health care centers due to the deliberate targeting of roads leading to hospitals and health centers putting additional strain on the medical staff and the fragile medical system which is already suffering from a serious deterioration resulting from the siege. The aggression has resulted in a shortage of specialized medical staff in some medical facilities, medicines and basic medical supplies where 45% of the list of essential medicines, 33% of the list of medical tasks, and 56% of laboratory and blood bank supplies ran out.
Cancer is a major public health issue that affects people of all ages and genders. It is the second leading cause of death worldwide. In the Gaza Strip, 8,644 cancer cases have been reported in the last five years, at a rate of 90 per 100,000 persons, or 1,800 new cases per year. Breast cancer, which affects 18% of women and men in Gaza, is the most frequent cancerous growth, followed by colon cancer, leukemia, thyroid cancer, and lung cancer.
Cancer patients in Gaza suffer greatly because they experience multiple challenges, such as a lack of medicine and the inability to travel. Many patients are referred to the occupied Palestinian territories for treatment since the medicine is not available in the Gaza Strip. The percentage of shortages in medicine and treatment supplies has reached 60%, while some cases are unable to travel due to the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip and the obstacles imposed by the occupation on travelers. The death rate of cancer patients as a result of the travel ban has risen to 3,000 in the last five years, and the situation is made worse by a shortage of equipment in Gaza for atomic and radiological surveys to detect different forms of tumors, which delays early diagnosis of the disease.
Due to the high number of HIV infections, the pandemic has increased the material and human burdens on the health sector, as well as the requirement for health care for persons infected with Covid-19, depending on the level of infection and severity of cases in isolation and quarantine centers. It has also increased the working hours of medical staff in the first line of defense in dealing with the pandemic, particularly preventive medical staff and crews working in Corona screening, examination, and quarantine centers, as well as staff working in laboratories and staff working in hospitals receiving suspicious cases, and technical committees and administrative staff involved in pandemic management at all levels, so that medical staff are considered to be highly likely to be infected because they are in the immediate line of contact with suspected and infected cases.
Due to emergency, closure procedures and calling residents to stay at homes, the pandemic posed an impediment to citizens’ access to health services, particularly for the most vulnerable categories of people with impairments, the elderly, and pregnant women. This greatly reduced the number reviewers during the closing periods and the accumulation of more postponed appointments for operations and outpatient clinics; the matter potentially increasing the workload in the near future.