Field hospitals 'only option' to treat Gazans sick with coronavirus

Gaza in a "contained panic," says former COGAT adviser on Palestinian affairs

Supplies are seen for a field hospital in Gaza constructed by the Evangelical Christian organization FriendShip. (photo credit: COURTESY OF FRIENDSHIP)
Supplies are seen for a field hospital in Gaza constructed by the Evangelical Christian organization FriendShip.
As fears over the deadly coronavirus continue to spread in the densely populated Gaza Strip, a field hospital currently under construction by a US Evangelical Christian aid group in the northern Gaza Strip may be one more facility to treat Gazans sick with the virus.
On Sunday the first two Gazans were diagnosed with the virus. The two men, who had returned from Pakistan via Egypt, had been in quarantine before exhibiting symptoms and had only limited contact with others. But there is a real fear regarding many Gazans having been infected as there are not enough testing kits available.
The virus may have already spread among the population, undetected. A ticking time bomb waiting to explode in a place unable to cope with thousands upon thousands of patients gasping for air.
There are 20 coronavirus quarantine facilities in Gaza's South, including empty schools, hotels and medical facilities which are currently housing more than 1,200 people who have just returned to the blockaded coastal enclave.
WHO has established a field hospital at the Rafah crossing with 38 beds, six intensive care unit beds and 30 for patients in moderate condition. Another 50 rooms will be established as a quarantine area for travelers. The Gaza European Hospital will also be designated to absorb and treat additional cases should the field hospital reach full capacity.
And the field hospital being built by FriendShips near the Erez pedestrian crossing between the Hamas-run coastal enclave and Israel can be another option.
FriendShips, a Louisiana-based evangelical organization, ran a field hospital for years on the Golan Heights during the IDF’s Operation Good Neighbor where it treated over 7,000 patients.
The facility in Gaza, which is made up of several medical tents on an area equivalent to 40 dunams, is described by the organization on their website as “a multi-faceted mobile (tent based) medical facility” and has the capability of “telemedicine for worldwide consultation with specialists”
While the construction of the hospital has not yet been completed, on Tuesday the organization transferred thousands of protective masks and other essential medical goods into the Strip.
“There is a team working there as fast as they can to put things together and open the facility as soon as possible but it’s difficult to know when because it also depends on the availability of local workers,” a source told The Jerusalem Post.
While the organization plans to provide a wide range of health services at the field hospital once it’s up and running, it’s already been highly criticized by Hamas and Fatah for being for “military, intelligence and security purposes.”
But with a massive crisis likely to befall the blockaded enclave, the field hospital with 16 wards could be used in the future as a possible additional location to treat sick Gazans.
While the source said that “it’s a bit early to say” if the field hospital would be able to act as a coronavirus field hospital, “nothing was invented for this crisis. The equipment exists, the hospital just needs much more and Palestinians in general need much much more than others.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that Gaza’s healthcare system would not be able to deal with an outbreak of the deadly disease in the densely populated enclave home to nearly 2 million people.
While the IDF’s field hospitals have been recognized by WHO as being one of the best in the world, achieving the agency’s first-ever Type 3 rating in 2016, military sources have said that they are not equipped to handle pandemics like the coronavirus rather patients following natural disasters such as earthquakes.
A senior defense source told the Post that there is no current comprehensive plan should there be a significant rise of Gazans sick with the virus. While “every effort” will be made to assist them, “if there are thousands, they will not enter” Israel for medical treatment.
Hamas violently took power of the 25-mile coastal enclave in 2007 and a blockade imposed by Israel has sharply reduced the supplies of fuel, electricity and medical supplies making it doubtful that the medical infrastructure would be able to contend with such a crisis.
Israel has also for years restricted the imports of dual-use items that could be used for both civilian and military purposes. The Strip’s weak healthcare infrastructure with less than 3,000 beds in total and only 70 intensive care unit beds is unable to cope with the responsibility for caring for the sick.
Col. (ret.) Michael Milshtein, head of the Forum for Palestinian Studies at the Moshe Dayan Center told the Post that the spread of the virus in Gaza is one of the most complicated issues in years and that while Israel must Gaza because “it’s a humanitarian duty, Hamas must be told of the price of our assistance.”
Unable to treat all patients without Israel’s help, there should be conditions placed on Hamas for supplies such as giving Israel information on the missing civilians and bodies of soldiers held by the terror group, he said.
“If corona spreads in Gaza, Hamas will need a lot of things from Israel and I'm not sure that Israel can supply Hamas with everything that it needs because of its own complex situation... I'm not sure we can even give them testing kits,” Milshtein said, adding nevertheless that Israel could erect another field hospital for sick patients.
“Israel will prevent them from entering Israel, especially if they are sick with [coronavirus]. A field hospital might be the only solution because Israel’s hospitals are already overflowing. There is no other option.”
According to Milshtein, the people of Gaza don’t believe that only two people have been infected with the virus, telling the Post that “they are in a contained panic.”
The former adviser on Palestinian affairs to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories and senior officer in IDF intelligence also warned that Hamas might try to channel the upset over their inability to care for their own people by resuming the launching of explosive aerial devices and even rockets towards southern Israel.
“For two weeks there’s been no balloons or rockets and the Great Return March protests haven’t resumed. All that violence that we’ve been used to seeing has vanished, but it could be temporary,” he warned.