The feud between Palestinian factions that has led to an electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip has also brought about a severe shortage of medicine and medical equipment in the Hamas-run enclave, a rights watchdog said this week, describing a worsening humanitarian situation.
According to information given to Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI) by Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry, “one-third of essential medicines and more than 270 medical equipment items for operating rooms and intensive care units can no longer be obtained in the Health Ministry’s storerooms and in Gaza hospitals.“
The physicians’ NGO said the cause of the shortages is the Palestinian Authority’s slashing of funds sent to Gaza, including for healthcare operations and medical supplies.
The PA, according to information given to PHRI, used to pay $4 million monthly for the regular operation of 13 government hospitals and 54 primary care centers. In April, the sum was down to $2.3 million, and in May it fell to just $500,000, the organization said.
In April, the Israeli daily Haaretz quoted a senior adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas who said Ramallah was slashing the health care budget for Gaza as part of a series of measures meant to coerce Hamas into relinquishing some control of the Strip, which it seized in 2007, and giving authority back to the PA.
“We realize this sounds cruel, but in the end, after 10 years of the split and Hamas rule in the Strip, [Hamas] must decide whether it will control things in every sense, including ongoing expenses, or let the Palestinian government rule,” the adviser said.
On Sunday, Israeli ministers decided to heed a request by Abbas to slash the amount of electricity provided to Gaza, significantly ramping up tensions with Hamas, which warned the move could lead to an outbreak of violence.
Both Israel and the PA charge that Hamas would have the money to supply Gaza’s power needs if it didn’t expend a large part of its resources on armaments and preparation for future conflict with the Jewish state, with which it has fought three wars and avowedly seeks to destroy.
If the cuts go through, the amount of power the Strip’s 2 million residents receive will be cut by around 45-60 minutes a day from the 4-6 hours they currently get.
The power cuts could hit hospitals particularly hard, with little fuel to keep emergency generators running.
According to a Gaza health ministry document given to The Times of Israel by PHRI, the stocks of fuel to power hospital generators will run out by mid-July.
The ministry’s hospitals, the document states, need 430,000 liters of fuel per month, costing approximately $450,000.
According to the physicians group, there is also a severe lack of medicines and equipment in the Palestinian enclave.
PHRI, quoting statistics from the Hamas-run ministry, said most cancer patients are not able to receive proper treatment because of shortfalls.
One of the groups hardest hit by the medicine shortage is patients, mostly children, suffering from the chronic lung disease cystic fibrosis, who can’t get the pills and vitamins they need.
“In the Gaza Strip, there are 321 patients who require 40,000 Creon pills, but the storerooms are completely empty and the supply level reached zero,” said Ashraf A-Shanti, chair of the Association of Cystic Fibrosis Patients in Gaza, according to a statement released by PHRI.
The electricity crisis in the Strip also means the patients cannot use their breathing regulating devices due to the frequent power failures.
In addition, some 240 infants with developmental deficits have no more access to therapeutic milk formula to treat complicated severe acute malnutrition, which “is essential to the infants’ physiological and cognitive development,” PHRI said.
PHRI Executive Director Ran Goldstein told The Times of Israel on Monday that he believes Israel is also partly responsible for the current crises in Gaza.
“The responsibility is not only on one side.The fact that the PA isn’t transferring funding for the health system is their responsibility, but the fact that Israel still controls, together with Egypt, every port in Gaza… imports and exports, it still has a lot of responsibility,” he said.
“Israel can choose a better approach that can save innocent people from dying,” he added.
Israel, he urged, can provide funds, medicines, electric power and open Gaza to the outside world for “urgent” humanitarian help.
Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade on the Strip, which Jerusalem says is needed to keep out weaponry and materials that could be used for terror activity or in fighting against Israel. The border authority allows in humanitarian goods and also gives some Gazans permits to enter Israel for medical care.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Defense Ministry Branch that deals with Palestinian Civilian Affairs, emphasized that “the list of equipment entering Gaza is run by the Palestinian Authority and is decided in accordance to their considerations.”
COGAT said Israel works in the background “to promote civil policies in order to assist the residents of Gaza.”
This is despite the fact, COGAT said, that Hamas “continuously attempts to take advantage of the civil steps promoted by Israel,” including abusing the permits given to Gazans “to transfer terror funds, weapons, instructions and intelligence to perform terror attacks in Israel.”
According to COGAT, in 2016, 30,768 crossings were coordinated from the Gaza Strip into Israel for medical attention. In 2017, so far, 13,530 crossings were coordinated from the Gaza Strip into Israel for medical attention, and thus far in June that number is 732.
In April, the Shin Bet security service said it caught two sisters, one of whom is a cancer sufferer, attempting to sneak explosives from the Strip into Israel, disguising it in medicine.
Nearly 900 ‘at risk of death’
Gaza’s health ministry spokesperson Dr. Ashraf al-Qidra warned Monday of “dangerous consequences for the sick and general public health” in Gaza should the reduction in electricity take place.
According to the ministry document given to The Times of Israel by PHRI, 212 ICU and NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) patients as well as another 647 patients on hemodialysis “are at risk of death” due to the power shortages.
In Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest, over 1,000 “elective” surgeries are currently postponed, the document noted.
Gazans are also dependent on water desalination plants to provide them with drinking water. Without power, the operation of these plants will be further compromised.
Housing Minister Yoav Galant, who is a member of the Israeli security cabinet, told The Times of Israel during a briefing with reporters on Monday that Israel was “willing to get any kind of support” from the international community to ease the humanitarian crisis.
“We have to make sure there is enough water and medicine in the Gaza Strip. We are doing our best,” he said, without elaborating on what exactly Israel is doing.