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Photo by: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters
Medical supplies running low in Gaza Strip
By ILENE PRUSHER
21/11/2012
Rights organizations confirm hospitals are short of medicines due to closed crossings into Gaza, PA financial crisis.
 
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 week.

“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.”

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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 running low.

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.

Maj. Guy 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 supplies.

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 Gaza.

“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 Gaza.”

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.”
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