GENEVA: The war between Israel and Hamas is having a catastrophic impact on health in Gaza, the WHO chief warned on Sunday, with medics facing an “impossible” job in unimaginable conditions.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a special session of the World Health Organization’s executive board that the Palestinian territory’s health system was in free fall.
“The impact of the conflict on health is catastrophic,” Tedros told the Geneva meeting.
“As more and more people move to a smaller and smaller area, overcrowding, combined with the lack of adequate food, water, shelter and sanitation, are creating the ideal conditions for disease to spread,” he said.
The UN health agency’s chief said there were worrying signs of epidemic diseases — and the risk was expected to worsen with the situation deteriorating and winter conditions approaching.
“Gaza’s health system is on its knees and collapsing,” Tedros said, with only 14 out of 36 hospitals functioning with any capacity at all, and, only two of those in the north of the coastal territory.
Only 1,400 hospital beds out of an original 3,500 are still available, while the two major hospitals in southern Gaza are operating at three times their bed capacity, Tedros added.
Tedros said that since Oct. 7, the WHO had verified more than 449 attacks on healthcare in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, and 60 on healthcare in Israel.
“The work of the health workers is impossible, and they are directly in the firing line,” he said, with medics who are “physically and mentally exhausted and are doing their best in unimaginable conditions.”
“There is no health without peace and no peace without health,” Tedros concluded.
The special session was called by 17 of the 34 countries on the executive board, which normally meets twice a year. Its main job is to advise the World Health Assembly, the WHO’s decision-making body, and then implement its decisions.
A draft resolution proposed by Afghanistan, Morocco, Qatar and Yemen calls for the immediate, sustained and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief into the Gaza Strip and the granting of exit permits for patients.
It seeks the supply and replenishment of medicine and medical equipment to the civilian population and for all persons deprived of their liberty to be given access to medical treatment.
It voices “grave concern” at the humanitarian situation, laments the “widespread destruction,” and urges protection for all civilians.
Palestinian Health Minister Mai Al-Kaila, speaking via video link from Ramallah, called for the immediate cessation of the “brutal war in Gaza” and the immediate, unconditional flow of fuel, water, aid, and medical supplies into the territory.
“The daily horrors we all witness defy international law and shatter the essence of our shared humanity,” she said.
“Now is the time for decisive action. The world cannot stand neutral while innocent lives are lost, and the basic rights of the Palestinian people are compromised.”
Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel’s ambassador in Geneva, said that on Oct. 6, “there was a ceasefire with Hamas. On Oct. 7, we woke up to a new reality.”
She said Israel’s military operation “is directed toward Hamas. It has never been against the Palestinian people. And I recognize the suffering in Gaza.
“Let there be no mistake, however: Hamas is responsible for this suffering.
“The reality is, if we stop now, Hamas will carry out another Oct. 7.”