80-90% of ventilators in West Bank and Gaza already in use, WHO official says
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80-90% of ventilators in West Bank and Gaza already in use, WHO official says

Palestinian Authority official warns of a ‘disaster’ if Palestinian workers do not abide by quarantine upon returning to West Bank

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

A doctor checks a medical ventilator control panel while wearing protective clothing at the Samson Assuta Ashdod University Hospital, March 16, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)
A doctor checks a medical ventilator control panel while wearing protective clothing at the Samson Assuta Ashdod University Hospital, March 16, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The overwhelming majority of ventilators in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are already being used by patients with conditions unrelated to the highly contagious coronavirus, a World Health Organization official warned on Thursday.

Eighty to 90 percent of the 256 adult ventilators in the West Bank and the 87 in the Gaza Strip are currently unavailable, Gerald Rockenschaub, the head of the WHO’s mission to the Palestinians, told The Times of Israel.

“They are being used by people who have suffered heart attacks, strokes and other incidents requiring critical care,” he said.

The WHO representative made the comments after the number of confirmed cases in the West Bank jumped over the past two days.

Palestinian authorities in Ramallah announced 26 new cases of the virus on Thursday after reporting 15 on Wednesday. They said that a total of 160 people in the West Bank and Gaza have been infected by the contagion, including 18 who recovered and one who died.

Palestinian health professionals in Beit Sahour handling kits to test for coronavirus on March 31, 2020. (Credit: Wafa)

Global demand for ventilators has skyrocketed in recent month as patients with serious cases of COVID-19 around the world have required them to stay alive.

In Italy, some hospitals have been unable to provide everyone who needs a ventilator with one; the country has thus far dealt with more than 110,000 cases of the virus.

Rockenschaub said the WHO had ordered 30 critical care beds equipped with ventilators for the Palestinians from the United Nations Children’s Fund and was trying to secure more.

He added that he was also aware that the Palestinian Authority was trying to obtain additional vital breathing machines through its bilateral contacts with other countries.

On Thursday, Kamal al-Shakhra, the director-general of primary care at the PA Health Ministry, said the ministry has 205 ventilators, adding it would obtain an additional 250 in the coming days.

Gerald Rockenschaub, the head of the World Health Organization’s mission to the Palestinians, addressing an event in the Gaza Strip on November 29, 2016. (Screenshot: World Health Organization)

Rockenschaub said the discrepancy between his and the PA’s figures was due to the WHO counting ventilators in both public and private health institutions.

He also explained that the international organization did not take into account ventilators for children because the overwhelming majority of minors infected by the virus do not need them.

Shortly after Palestinian health officials confirmed the first cases in the West Bank in early March, PA President Mahmoud Abbas declared a state of emergency for 30 days.

PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has since announced the closure of schools and universities, the cancellation of all hotel reservations and conferences, the shuttering of tourist and religious sites, the banning of public gatherings and protests, and other measures.

Last week, Shtayyeh unveiled drastic measures significantly restricting freedom of movement across the West Bank. He said that all Palestinians would be required to stay in their homes unless they were going to supermarkets and health institutions, among a handful of other locations.

The PA has also said it urgently needs $120 million to pay for medical staff and equipment as well as medications.

On Thursday, Shakhra cautioned that the number of cases in the West Bank could rise dramatically if Palestinians returning from jobs in Israel do not properly quarantine themselves.

A member of the Palestinian Authority Civil Defense spraying water and chlorine in a public space in Bethlehem on March 31, 2020. (Credit: Wafa)

“If the workers do not isolate [themselves], we will be moving toward a disaster on the level of all of Palestine,” he said.

Nearly two weeks, ago after the first confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel and the West Bank, Israeli authorities barred the vast majority of Palestinians from entering the Jewish state, but allowed tens of thousands of Palestinian workers in “essential sectors,” mostly construction, to spend one to two months in the country.

Israeli authorities said the workers would not be allowed to move back and forth between the West Bank and Israel and would be required to sleep in accommodations provided by their employers.

On Wednesday, PA government spokesman Ibrahim Milhem said the workers would return to the West Bank during Passover, which begins the evening of April 8.

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