Gaza’s largest hospital suspends surgeries due to cleaners’ strike
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Gaza’s largest hospital suspends surgeries due to cleaners’ strike

While emergency operations will continue, protest threatens patients’ and workers’ lives, due to dangerous accumulation of medical garbage

Khaled Abu Toameh is the Palestinian Affairs correspondent for The Times of Israel

Illustrative: An employee of the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza at the Beit Hanun hospital in the northern Gaza Strip, after it stopped its services on January 29, 2018, when it ran out of fuel. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
Illustrative: An employee of the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza at the Beit Hanun hospital in the northern Gaza Strip, after it stopped its services on January 29, 2018, when it ran out of fuel. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Shifa Hospital, the largest medical complex in the Gaza Strip, announced on Sunday that it was suspending all surgeries, with the exception of emergency cases, due to a cleaners’ strike over unpaid salaries.

“It has been decided to postpone all scheduled surgeries, including those for patients with tumors,” the hospital said, noting that the decision excluded “life-saving cases.”

The medical staff at Shifa called on all relevant parties to work toward ending the strike of the cleaners immediately.

The strike, which began on Sunday, threatens patients’ and workers’ lives because of the dangerous accumulation of medical garbage in the hospital, the staff warned.

It was the second time in recent weeks that the hospital cleaners in the Gaza Strip went on strike.

Palestinian refugees collect aid parcels at a United Nations food distribution center in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 21, 2018. (AFP/ SAID KHATIB)

Last month, the cleaners agreed to return to work after the Palestinian Authority government promised to pay them their salaries. However, the government has since paid salaries for only two months, prompting the cleaners to renew their strike.

Hamas officials have accused the PA government of failing to provide funds to the health system in the Gaza Strip despite a Hamas-Fatah “reconciliation” agreement signed in Cairo in 2017. According to the officials, many hospitals are suffering from a severe shortage in medicine and generator fuel as a result of the PA’s failure to carry out its duties.

More than 830 cleaners work in 13 hospitals and 73 other medical centers in different parts of the Gaza Strip. The cleaners are employed by 13 companies at a cost of NIS 943,000 ($267,000) per month.

Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesperson for the Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip, said that the strike would have “dangerous repercussions” on the work of 40 operation theaters and 11 caesarean maternity wards.

“The strike will also affect medical services to some 100 patients in intensive care units, 113 children in pediatric centers, and 702 patients suffering from kidney failure,” he said.

Gerald Rockenschaub, head of the World Health Organization Office (WHO) for the West Bank and Gaza Strip, speaks at a press conference upon the release of a new health access report on November 29, 2016. (Screen capture/YouTube/File)

More than 50 medical laboratories and 11 blood banks will also be affected by the strike of the cleaners, Qidra added.

Last week, Dr. Gerald Rockenschaub, head of the World Health Organization Office for the West Bank and Gaza Strip, warned that the health sector in the Gaza Strip was on the verge of collapse due to dwindling fuel supplies.

He said that a $2 million donation from the United Arab Emirates to sustain hospital backup generators for critical health services would provide enough fuel to keep facilities running for several months.

“The UAE’s timely support will save lives, but a more sustainable solution is required to address the chronic fuel and power shortages in Gaza that leave health facilities consistently on the verge of closure,” Rockenschbaum said.

The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, last week also promised $9 million in urgent aid to help solve the crisis in the Gaza Strip. The promise was made during a phone conversation between Al Thani and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.

Between late January and early 2018, two hospitals were forced to shut down: Durrah Hospital and Gaza Psychiatric Hospital, the only mental health center in the Gaza Strip, according to the WHO office for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Beit Hanoun Hospital, a 63-bed hospital in the northern Gaza Strip, was also partially closed, with the emergency department functioning at minimal capacity, it said.

“With the closure of some hospitals, the extra burden placed on the remaining hospitals in operation will further strain delivery of services, including surgery, emergency departments, intensive care units and maternity services,” WHO warned last week.

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