Nearly four years ago, Dr. Nafiz Abu Shabam, the head of the burns unit
at Shifa Hospital in the Gaza Strip, was overwhelmed with patients who were
coming in with severe burns during Operation Cast Lead.
This time, there
have been fewer burn injuries in the week-long war. That’s a relief, he says,
because there’s a severe shortage of necessary supplies, in particular human
albumin, which is used for treating severe burns. At Shifa Hospital, one of
Gaza’s biggest, as well as at several other hospitals in the coastal strip, many
supplies are running low — and have been since the flare-up in hostilities last
“When there are burns we have an urgent need for human albumin, and
we don’t have a single bottle of it,” says Shabam. “The items that we do have
were in short supply even before this attack. Our stores were running low, but
it’s much worse now.”
Several organizations, including Physicians for
Human Rights-Israel, the Palestinian Committee for Human Rights, and the
Palestinian Red Crescent, confirmed Tuesday that medical supplies in Gaza are
COGAT, the Coordinator for Government Activities in the
Territories, said that while Israel has allowed a steady flow of trucks into
Gaza, including those carrying medical supplies, the use of the Kerem Shalom
Crossing was frozen in recent days because of shooting there.
Inbar, the spokesman of COGAT, said that his office gave clearance Tuesday for
118 trucks carrying medical supplies and food to enter Gaza — but would not
specify exactly how many of them were carrying medicines or medical
Several organizations said that medical supplies were already
running low in Gaza due in part to the severe financial crisis within the
Palestinian Authority. The PA’s Health Ministry in Ramallah is still in charge
of overseeing the delivery of medical supplies, equipment and medicine to Gaza.
But the PA, behind in almost all of its payments and shorter than ever on donor
cash, has been unable to pay its suppliers.
“So many hospitals in Gaza
have told us that they are running short,” said Kifah Abdul Halim of Physicians
for Human Rights-Israel. “On the first or second day since this began, we
started speaking to hospitals. They told us there is a shortage of medicines and
they will run out in a few days.”
The shortage has been ongoing, she
noted, but has now been exacerbated by the skyrocketing injuries and the
difficulty of getting in new supplies through the various crossings into
“This shortage started a few months ago,” she explained. “Also in
the West Bank we have been experiencing this, because of the financial crisis.
Many of the companies that the PA used to buy their supplies from were not
getting paid, the PA had a huge debt, and so these companies didn’t want to sell
to them anymore. And whatever happens in the West Bank is always worse in
Sari Bashi, the founder of Gisha – the Legal Center for the
Freedom of Movement, a Tel Aviv-based NGO which focuses on access to the Gaza
Strip, says that the medical system has gradually been worn down by the general
closure on Gaza since Hamas took power in 2007.
“There’s an overall
concern about the quality of medical care in Gaza. It’s very difficult to
maintain a medical system when your doctors don’t get out for training and
doctors from the outside aren’t allowed in. A lot of procedures aren’t available
in Gaza, and so people get referred to Egypt and Israel.
What you have in
Gaza is an under-performing and under-supplied system, coping with many injuries –
many of them serious.”