Joint press release by HelpAge International and El Wedad Society for Community Rehabilitation
73 people have died due to lack of health care during COVID-19.
850 oxygen gas cylinders redistributed from people who need them for other health conditions to give to COVID-19 patients.
1200 patients unable to access life-saving medical care they desperately need.
The lives of thousands of people suffering from chronic diseases are at risk in Gaza as they are unable to access vital treatment due to COVID-19 travel restrictions or medical equipment being prioritised for COVID-19 patients says HelpAge International and the Gaza-based El Wedad Society for Community Rehabilitation today.
Seventy-three people have died in Gaza due to the lack of continuous treatment and travel restrictions imposed in response to COVID-19, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, whereas only one person has died from coronavirus.
“The Ministry of Health was faced with an agonising choice on how to protect the lives of its citizens. It put in place strong and responsible measures against COVID-19 but this left it without the resources to continue other much-needed health services,” said Chris McIvor, Regional Director of HelpAge International Eurasia and Middle East Regional Office.
“Gaza has been cut off and slowly suffocating for decades, with access and support denied to its impoverished population. The international community had a duty to recognise the risks that COVID-19 would pose to such a densely-packed population but instead, with a few exceptions, left them exposed and under-resourced.”
The European Hospital in Khan Yunis in the Gaza strip effectively closed its doors to all but COVID-19 patients. 3,500 patients who depend on it for healthcare have had to make way for a potential influx of people suffering from the virus. This has particularly affected patients with kidney and heart diseases, as well as those suffering from breathing difficulties. They have had to register with other hospitals, many of which do not have the medical equipment they require and have long waiting lists.
850 patients who previously relied on the use of oxygen gas cylinders at the hospital are no longer able to use them and cannot afford $350 to buy their own, according to the Ministry of Health.
“The authorities need to put all the steps in place to try and curb the spread of this virus and to prepare to treat all those affected, especially as Gaza is one of the most densely-populated places on the planet. However, thousands of people suffering from chronic diseases could die if they do not have access to the medical care urgently needed to treat them,” says Ms. Naeima Khalel Ahmed El-Qeeq, President of the Board of El Wedad Society for Community Rehabilitation.
The blockade on Gaza is putting patients at risk as the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing and Egyptian-controlled Rafah Terminal remain closed. A limited number of people are allowed through who must then enter 21 days’ quarantine.
As a result, hundreds of patients are unable to access medical treatment in Israel, the West Bank or Egypt, including patients who need heart operations and kidney dialysis.
Thousands of cardiac and respiratory patients are also unable to access the care they need due to COVID-19 restrictions alongside long-standing problems such as lack of electricity and clean water.
To date, there have been 72 positive cases of COVID-19 and one fatality in Gaza – an older woman with underlying medical conditions. Due to the lockdown, she was unable to travel to a hospital with adequate facilities and died due to the lack of treatment.
“The health facilities in Gaza were already failing people suffering from chronic diseases, but this has now become a major emergency,” says Ms. Naeima Khalel Ahmed El-Qeeq, President of the Board of El Wedad Society for Community Rehabilitation. “Urgent support is needed.”
One older woman – from the Abu Rida family in Khan Yunis – died because she could not access the oxygen she urgently needed.
Al-Haj Deeb (72) lives in a refugee camp in central Gaza. He suffers from several chronic diseases, including diabetes, high blood pressure and has chronic lung disease. His health problems have been exacerbated by the stress of living in chronic poverty and constant insecurity. He used to go to the chest and respiratory department at the European Hospital for oxygen every two weeks to help with his breathing difficulties but this has not been possible since the COVID-19 outbreak. He couldn’t afford to buy his own cylinder but has been able to borrow one from a neighbour. Before he received this, the lack of oxygen caused a breathing crisis and complicated his health problems.
Al-Haj Deeb said: “People are going without food and drink and putting their lives at risk to pay for the cylinders, when it should be the hospital’s duty to supply these.”
Before the COVID-19 outbreak Al-Haj Deeb used to get out and about with the help of his son, including a weekly visit to the UNRWA health centre, but says he has now become ‘a prisoner in his own home’, scared of contracting the virus.
El Wedad Society for Community Rehabilitation, supported by HelpAge and funded by Age International and the Start Fund, has provided blood pressure and blood sugar tests; community education and awareness on COVID-19, as well as hygiene kits, including hand sanitiser, alcohol-based soap, antimicrobial wipes and masks and gloves. But it cannot address the huge gaps in healthcare that have widened due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
HelpAge and El Wedad are calling on the international community to support the Palestinian Ministry of Health to ensure that any response to the COVID-19 pandemic does not come at the expense of those already suffering from chronic diseases. The Inter-Agency Response Plan for the COVID-19 crisis (compiled by the Ministry of Health, UN and NGOs) is only currently 60% funded. And this funding mainly covers the provision of Personal Protective Equipment and expanding the capacity of intensive care units.
They are also calling upon the national and international community to address the long-standing problems of chronic living conditions in Gaza, where currently 73% of the population live in poverty and 97% of the population suffer from a lack of safe drinking water.