Medical staff in Gaza struggle to cope with rising casualties

By Oxfam
Ambulances, hospitals, and emergency medical staff have come under attack in Gaza. Photo: Iyad al Baba / Oxfam

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Oxfam is providing clean water to hospitals, despite air strikes and shelling.

"I never imagined that I'd witness what I am seeing now," says Moeen Abu Al Eish, a paramedic and ambulance driver at one of Gaza's biggest hospitals, as he drives his ambulance to the scene of airstrikes and shelling. He sees the dead bodies of women and children in the streets, many with horrific wounds.

With the crisis in Gaza mounting, hospitals are struggling to cope with the growing influx of casualties. A large proportion of the dead and wounded are civilians, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in a report on August 1. In late July, Oxfam estimated that one child an hour was being killed in Gaza.

Medical teams are working around the clock to save lives and treat injuries. Oxfam is delivering safe water to hospitals that have been overwhelmed with casualties. Many hospitals and healthcare facilities have also come under attack. As of 2 August, at least 12 hospitals have been damaged by missiles and shelling, five of which were closed, according to UN and Oxfam staff reports. Fourteen primary health clinics have sustained damage. Twenty six health workers from the Palestinian Red Crescent have been injured while trying to respond.

"So far three of our ambulances were attacked and several of my colleagues were severely injured," says Moeen. "But this doesn’t stop us or slow us down. No amount of danger or threat to our lives can deter us from doing our job."

Dr. Kamal Khattal works at a hospital that was hit by shelling. "In a second, the situation inside the hospital became so chaotic - injured people and medical staff were terrified, everyone started to run to find a place to shelter. We had to evacuate all the hospital except the emergency department. Some vital units stopped operating... but we had no option but to continue to work in the emergency unit to treat…the injured. We had 15 medical staff among the wounded. This was the last thing I expected."

Oxfam provides fuel and medicine to a hospital in north Gaza with a special unit for pregnant women. Many hospitals face severe shortages of medical supplies and fuel. Damage to electricity lines means people in Gaza are suffering from power cuts of 20 hours a day, making it extremely difficult to keep water pumping and life-saving operations going. More than a quarter of essential medical drugs are currently out of stock.

In addition to providing life-saving aid to people in Gaza, Oxfam is calling on all parties to the conflict to agree to a ceasefire, prevent violence against civilians and aid workers, and allow civilians to receive humanitarian assistance. Both sides should also remove restrictions on the movement of people, and preserve the infrastructure that helps provide for clean water, food, medicine, and other essential humanitarian assistance.

Moeen says the situation is getting worse by the day. "I put all my energy and efforts to try and save civilians, but there is little I can do when I arrive at a bombed site and motionless bodies are all over the place and on the streets. I try to transport the injured to hospital as quickly as possible, knowing that at any moment the site could very possibly be attacked again.

"I thank God every moment that I am still alive. I've experienced several wars in my lifetime but nothing could have prepared me for this."

Read more about our response to the Gaza crisis and find out how you can help.