Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams have been responding to a growing humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza since the eruption of a full-scale war between Israel and Hamas on October 7. According to the OCHA, at least 5,000 people have been killed in Gaza, of whom 62 per cent are women and children, and 1,400 people have been killed in Israel. Thousands have been injured on both sides.
People in Gaza were already facing a chronic crisis even before the current war started. A 16-year blockade has tightly restricted the movement of basic goods like medical equipment and services, with 95 per cent of people lacking access to clean water and more than 85 per cent living in poverty. On October 9, Israel announced a total siege on Gaza, blocking all residents' food, water, electricity, and fuel. This is unconscionable and amounts to the collective punishment of 2.2 million Palestinians living in Gaza—nearly half of whom are children.
Civilians in Gaza are threatened by heavy aerial bombardment and indiscriminate attacks by the Israeli military. According to the World Health Organization, there have been at least 48 attacks on healthcare in Gaza—including facilities, ambulances, and medical staff.
Here are some of the other ways the war is putting people’s lives and health at risk.
1. Evacuation orders threaten the lives of the most vulnerable
Late on October 2, the Israeli military warned the one million northern Gaza residents to evacuate and move to the southern part of the territory within 24 hours. On October 13, Israel gave MSF-supported Al Awda Hospital just two hours to evacuate, followed by a temporary reprieve. There is simply no way to safely evacuate patients from a hospital.
These mass evacuation orders force sick and injured people to risk their lives and flee south or to be left behind to face even greater violence. Many medical personnel also face impossible choices: moving south and seeking shelter for their families or staying behind to provide lifesaving care for their patients.
2. Hospitals cannot run without fuel and electricity
Hospitals in Gaza have been relying on generators since Israel cut off the electrical supply as part of the total siege. Generators run on fuel, and fuel reserves at hospitals across Gaza are nearly depleted, according to UNOCHA. When backup generators shut down, thousands of patients' lives will be at risk, particularly those on life support or those receiving treatment for dialysis. At Al Shifa Hospital, one of the main hospitals in Gaza City, fuel reserves are due to run out any minute.
3. People are suffering from a lack of access to essential medicines.
The siege leaves no respite for patients in Gaza. In hospitals, medical teams are contending with limited supplies, equipment, and capacity even as more patients arrive following attacks. At MSF-supported Al Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s main surgical facility, colleagues have reported a shortage of painkillers, leaving wounded patients screaming in agony. Pharmacies are running out of medicines. People with chronic illnesses could soon face life-threatening complications because of the shortage of medical supplies.
Medical supplies were already limited in Gaza before the start of the current conflict due to the years-long blockade. MSF is preparing medical supplies to be sent to Gaza when access is open. We are calling for the urgent delivery of humanitarian aid into Gaza when safe access can be guaranteed.
4. Lack of clean water increases the risk of disease
Access to clean water is now extremely scarce in Gaza, adding to people’s distress. People are at risk of dehydration. Many are drinking salty or contaminated water, which can make people sick.
The lack of access to clean water heightens the risk of waterborne diseases, such as cholera. It also complicates poor hygiene conditions in the makeshift shelters where many displaced people have lived in close quarters since fleeing northern Gaza. These conditions create fertile ground for diseases to spread rapidly.
5. Lack of antibiotics could lead to spikes in infection and antimicrobial resistance rates
People with open wounds and fractures caused by airstrikes and gunfire are highly susceptible to infection. With a low stock of medicines and extremely limited access to clean water, the rate of antibiotic resistance in Gaza is alarming. Some patients require immediate isolation to avoid the spread of bacteria with no known antibiotic treatment. Amputations are often required to prevent the infection from spreading and save people’s lives.