01 March 2018

In Gaza, Palestine, MSF carries out rehabilitation care and reconstructive plastic surgery for burn and trauma patients. In our three clinics, children under 15 years old represent 60% of patients. Most were injured in domestic accidents.

In Gaza, the population has to live with four to six hours of electricity per day, which sometimes only come at night. So, in Ussaid’s family, they admit that when the electricity is working, they are in a rush to do several things at the same time to take advantage of it: cooking, running the washing machine, etc.

MSF, Palestine, Gaza
Ussaid Hanoon is 14 months. He was burnt to both hand and referred to MSF clinic for dressings. After two months he was discharged. He was met in January 2018. Photo by: Laurie Bonnaud

One day, after baking some bread, Ussaid’s mother switched off the electric pan and left the kitchen, rushing to get to all the activities that had to happen during the brief window where they had power. Unfortunately, Ussaid then came into the kitchen and put his hands on the pan that was still scolding hot.

After two months in an MSF clinic under the care our nurses and physiotherapists, Ussaid was discharged from the clinic and his little hands look like just before the accident.

He was very lucky. But his grandmother is clear and firm: ‘Now, the rule at home is not to do anything in the kitchen while the children are around. They are better crying outside the kitchen than being hurt inside,’ she says.

MSF, Palestine, Life in Gaza
Asma Sekek is 6 and a half years old. Asma got burnt on 2 July 2017, when she tripped over a pan full of hot water. The water spread over the floor and reached the electric plug socket, electrocuting her. Photo by: Laurie Bonnaud

As is the case for so many families in Gaza, Asma’s home is not connected to the water grid and does not have central heating. She was burned at home when some water that had been boiled for use in the family shower, fell on the ground and made contact with an electric socket. ‘It was a terrible pain,’ says Asma, ‘I was screaming so loud that the whole family heard me, but I could not move my hand from the water.

After the accident, Asma had to have surgery and was not able to move her hand for three months. She was referred to an MSF clinic in Gaza where she has been working with our nurses and physiotherapists for five months.

‘Now I can dress alone and brush my hair. I also learned to write with my left hand when I could not move the right one, to not miss school. Despite the pain, I received ‘Excellent’ grades in all my classes!’

MSF, Palestine, Life in Gaza
Shahed Abdel Rahman is 15 months. She walked around a fire made on the ground by her family to warm up the tea and accidently caught her elbow on the teapot. Photo by: Laurie Bonnaud

Socio-economic conditions are deteriorating in Gaza over the past years. One day, in November 2017, Shahed’s parents were entertaining their wider family at home, but couldn’t afford to buy a new canister of gas to cook with. Instead, they decided to build a fire to cook over.

During the family gathering, as everyone stood around the fire, Shahed accidentally elbowed a teapot that had been placed on top of it, spilling hot tea over her legs, back and chest.

In the hospital, where she stayed for a month and a half, her mother met with many other mothers whose children had been burned in similar ways. In MSF clinics, 70% of patients admitted for burns have been in accidents involving hot liquids.

It was very painful for her mother to see her daughter in that condition. Since that day, they haven’t made tea at home.

MSF, Palestine, Life in Gaza
Ramzi Shalayel, 6 years old, walked backwards into the pan, full of hot soup, and fell into it. Photo by: Laurie Bonnaud

In October, Ramzi’s family was organising a big party at home to celebrate a visit of an aunt coming from the West Bank. Movement in and out of Gaza is extremely restricted by Israel. Over the first six months of 2017, only 240 people per day (out of almost two million) were allowed to cross the border in either direction.

A big soup was prepared in the living room and put on the ground before serving. The family was about to eat even as Ramzi was still playing around. He walked backwards into the pan, full of hot soup, and fell into it.

‘In the end, we did not eat all together’, his mother says, ‘but we all went to the hospital instead.’

Ramzi was treated in an MSF clinic, where he received clean dressings and physiotherapy. Ramzi was severely traumatised by the experience. Since the accident, he has become more aggressive and stubborn, wanting more attention.

His mother hopes that he will return to his old self when he goes back to school, which he had to miss for a semester due to his injuries.

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