© Yuna Cho/MSF
29 Nov 18 29 Nov 18

Gaza: Injured facing healthcare emergency

A healthcare emergency is unfolding in Gaza as the cumulative needs of patients mount, warns Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF). The huge numbers of patients with complex and serious gunshot wounds are overwhelming the healthcare system in Gaza, leaving thousands in danger of infection and disability.

The vast majority of the 3,117 patients treated by MSF in the period from March 30th until October 31st – out of the total 5,866 the Ministry of Health say have been injured by live fire – have been shot in the legs. This has led to around half suffering open fractures, with many of the rest suffering severe soft tissue damage.

The severity of these complex injuries, and the lack of appropriate treatment in Gaza’s crippled health system following more than a decade of blockade, means that there is is a high risk of infection, especially for patients with open fractures.

"This many patients would overstretch the best healthcare systems in the world. In Gaza, it is a crushing blow."
Marie-Elisabeth IngresMSF Head of Mission in Palestine

Gaza currently lacks the ability to properly diagnose bone infections, but from experience MSF expects that at least 25 percent of patients with fractures are infected. Out of roughly 3,000 open fractures, this means that it is likely that more than 1,000 patients are infected.

Based on a preliminary analysis of MSF’s patients in Gaza, we estimate that at least 60 percent of the total number of the injured treated by all health providers – a massive 3,520 people – will need further surgery, physiotherapy and rehabilitation.

In addition, a significant proportion of those patients will require some form of reconstructive surgery to properly heal, but untreated infections will prevent that from happening.

The consequences of these wounds – especially if untreated – will be a lifelong disability for many, and if infections are not tackled then the results could be amputation or even death.

Medical response

Although MSF and other organisations are working hard to provide treatment for these patients, the scale of the needs is quickly becoming overwhelming, challenging our continued ability to respond.

“MSF has already tripled its capacity in Gaza but the volume required of surgery, carefully managed antibiotics, intensive nursing care, and long-term physiotherapy and rehabilitation is staggering,” said Marie-Elisabeth Ingres, MSF’s Head of Mission in Palestine.

“This many patients would overstretch the best healthcare systems in the world. In Gaza, it is a crushing blow.”

The situation is also worsening as more people are shot, as wounded flesh and bone dies, and as the risk of infection increases. An adequate response will cost tens of millions of Euros – money that urgently needs to be found.

“What is required now is for the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to do all they can to facilitate the free access and work of all healthcare providers in Gaza that are trying to build the advanced capacity to care for these people; for other countries in the region and around the globe to step forward and offer funding and space in their hospitals where advanced surgical capacity exists; and for authorities in Palestine and Israel to facilitate the transfer of these patients abroad,” said Ingres.

“The alternative – that thousands of patients will be left to deal with terrible injuries, with many permanently disabled and dependent on their families – is unconscionable when adequate treatment is within the world’s grasp.”

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