Circling back to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the hospitals are full of people who have been injured by bombing. But the situation is also grim for people with complex and chronic illnesses.
The World Health Organisation says that usually about 100 patients a day from Gaza receive care for complex health needs such as treatment for rare cancers and open-heart surgery, at hospitals in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Israel and other countries.
But since the October 7 attack by Hamas, Israel imposed a complete siege on Gaza, bombarding the coastal enclave and launching a ground offensive.
The WHO is pushing for the most vulnerable among the chronically ill to be allowed out for treatment. Other countries have offered to take in patients, including Egypt, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Before the war, around 20,000 patients per year sought permits from Israel to leave the Gaza Strip for healthcare, many of them requiring repeat trips across the border. Almost a third are children. Israel approved about 63 per cent of these medical exit applications in 2022, according to the WHO.
Osama Qadoumi, the supervisor at Makassed Hospital in east Jerusalem, said: “In previous wars, the crossing would close for a day or two, but then the patients were able to return.
“This is the first time there is such a comprehensive ban on movement and Gaza patients can’t make it out.
“The longer we wait, the worse some patients will get. Many people will die merely because they have no access to treatment.”
The concern is not just about the most complex cases. United Nations figures show there are 350,000 patients with chronic conditions in Gaza, including cancer and diabetes, and 50,000 pregnant women.
Previously, the majority could get medical care in Gaza, but now the UN says the territory’s fragile health system is close to collapse, battered by airstrikes, a surge in the number of trauma patients, and rapidly diminishing supplies of medicines and fuel. A trickle of aid has been allowed in, while about 80 patients were allowed out.
About 1000 patients in Gaza need kidney dialysis to stay alive, but 80 per cent of the machines are in local hospitals under evacuation orders, the WHO said. Gaza’s only cancer hospital is no longer functioning.
While the fighting rages, some 400 patients and their companions who left Gaza for treatment before the war have been stranded in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, the WHO said. Many struggle to contact their relatives, with scant telephone services and electricity in Gaza.