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Coronavirus in the Gaza Strip - Only 70 ICU Beds Available
Ghada Majadle
Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI)

Dear friends,

Last Sunday, the first two cases of COVID-19 were discovered in the Gaza
Strip. This is exactly the scenario authorities in the Gaza Strip have been
trying to avert for weeks by strictly monitoring and isolating people
returning to the Strip, preventing gatherings and shutting down schools. Now
that the virus has entered Gaza, they must adjust to a new reality of
community transmission.

This is a particularly ominous prospect given Gazaís unique predicament, an
area under occupation and siege with a health care system already plagued by
severe shortages of funds, medical equipment, medicine, and staff, and it
raises several concerns regarding preparedness for the coronavirus.

Will Gazaís health care system be able to stem the spread of the virus?

Global monitoring of the pandemicís spread indicates that every infected
individual will likely infect 2 to 2.5 other people - a pace similar to that
of the Spanish Flu and much higher than the Swine Flu that hit in 2009. At
the moment, stopping the spread depends on two main factors, screen testing
for the virus and isolating those who tested positive to prevent continued
spread. In the current conditions, it is unlikely that the authorities in
Gaza will be able to provide the necessary response. So far, only 92 tests
have been administered in Gaza, and itís unclear how successfully the
authorities can enforce isolation in one of the poorest and most densely
populated places in the world. Add to that the debilitated water and sewage
infrastructure, which makes it much harder to maintain the required
standards of hygiene and protection during an epidemic.

Can Gazaís health care system withstand a patient surge?

Gazaís population faces a tremendous risk as a result of Israelís policies
over the last decade: its health care system is experiencing severe
shortages as a result of the Israeli siege now in place for more than ten
years, as well as military assaults that have damaged hospitals and medical
facilities and injured hundreds of people, who are still receiving care.
Israeli restrictions also limit medical training, which has resulted in
shortages in many specialty areas, and crisis budgeting has created a
chronic shortage of medicine and medical supplies. This means Gazaís health
care system has trouble meeting needs in ordinary times, and many patients
are referred to hospitals outside it for treatment. Now that the crossings
have been closed, most of these patients are no longer referred for
treatment outside Gaza, and, with the addition of the expected corona
patients, Gaza hospitals are on course to facing unmanageable workloads.

Shortage of protective gear and ventilators

Aside from the patient surge and shortage of skilled staff, there are
shortages in supplies specifically needed for treating COVID-19. Gaza
currently has only about 70 ICU beds, some of which are already occupied.
This is merely a drop in the ocean given that Gaza has a population of over
two million. International data shows that countries where hospitals were
overloaded, primarily Italy, had extremely high infection and death rates.

The corona pandemic comes to Gaza when the Strip as a whole and its health
care system, in particular, are already in a desperate state. Without help,
Gaza residents will face an unfathomable disaster. What is needed to prevent
this scenario is massive aid from Israel and from the World Health
Organization to help stem the spread of the virus and treat those infected
with it. In these moments, when peopleís lives are on the line, this isnít
just Israelís obligation under international law and the law of occupation,
it is the humane, moral thing to do.

Ghada Majadle, Director of Occupied Territories Department, PHRI.
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