Red Cross says Gaza health crisis of 'unprecedented magnitude'

Geneva (AFP) –


The Red Cross warned Thursday that Gaza was facing an "epic" crisis, after weeks of violence has left more than 13,000 Palestinians wounded, overwhelming an already disastrously weak health system.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was stepping up its assistance in the beleaguered Palestinian enclave, and was sending in two surgical teams, additional medical specialists and supplies to help face the crisis.

"The recent demonstrations and violent activities along the Gaza border... have triggered a health crisis of unprecedented magnitude," Robert Mardini, who heads the ICRC's Near and Middle East operations, told reporters.

At least 122 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the unrest that flared up at the end of March. No Israelis have been killed.

More than 13,000 Palestinians have been wounded, including more than 3,600 by live ammunition, some multiple times, and there had been nearly 5,400 limb injuries, ICRC said.

Mardini's comments came as calm appeared to return to the Gaza Strip and nearby Israeli communities following the worst military flare-up in the area since a 2014 war, raising fears of yet another full-blown conflict in the narrow strip.

Mardini said that in the seven weeks since the demonstrations and violence began "we have exceeded the wounded caseload of the August 2014 war".

- 'Brink of collapse' -

"This did not happen in a vacuum," he said. "This epic health crisis took place against the backdrop of multiple, protracted, chronic crises affecting all sectors of life in Gaza."

Warning that the Gaza health system was on "the brink of collapse", he said ICRC would boost its assistance over a six-month period to reinforce medical facilities "which are clearly struggling to cope".

Of the thousands wounded, some 1,350 people have complex injuries and will require between three and five surgeries each, Mardini said.

That is "a total of more than 4,000 surgeries, half of which will be carried out by ICRC teams," he said. "I think such a caseload would overwhelm any health system in the world."

The ICRC has appealed to donors for a $5.3-million budget extension to fund a new 50-bed surgical unit in the Al-Shifa Hospital, medical supplies and other additional assistance.

That comes on top of its annual budget for its work across Israel and the Palestinian territories of around $49 million -- far less than half of which is funded.

But while Mardini voiced hope the boost in aid would help, he cautioned that it was far from a permanent fix for Gaza which has sky-high unemployment, limited supplies of electricity and clean water, and a sanitation system unable to cope.

"The whole Gaza is a sinking ship," he said.

And while health workers are focused squarely on "saving lives and limbs", other health services, for instance during child birth or to respond to a heart attack, are suffering, he said.