In Gaza's largest medical complex, Al-Shifa hospital, it is clear that when it comes to emergency medicine half-solutions are no solution at all. One of the Israeli army's first targets in its offensive in the Gaza Strip, which began on 28 June, was Gaza 's main power plant. The plant supplies power to the majority of the Gaza Strip, including powering Gaza 's hospitals, water supply and sewage treatment apparatus. DCI/PS field workers spoke with several doctor's from Al-Shifa hospital in order to capture the impact of Israel 's on-going siege of Gaza on the hospital and the particular repercussions of the destruction of the power plant on Palestinian children being cared for at Al-Shifa hospital.
Dr. Juma'a Al-Saqa, the hospital's Director of Public Relations, first highlighted that, at present the hospital has to make very difficult decisions about patients, deciding which patients to release prematurely and which patients to retain for further treatment. Under normal circumstances, the hospital, located in central Gaza , is the primary hospital for critical patients coming from the north and the south. The normal patient-load of the hospital is 600 beds and there is a staff of 1,400. Currently, the hospital is absorbing huge numbers of casualties coming from all five Gaza governorates, including the most serious injury cases. The hospital is striving to accommodate the needs of all incoming patients, but the number of occupied beds is now exceeding 130%.
Dr. Al-Saqa indicated that the increased hospital traffic since the beginning of the Israeli incursions into Gaza has compounded the challenges the hospital has faced over the course of the last six months. He explained that the hospital's ability to deliver quality care to emergency room and chronically ill patients, in particular, has been compromised. This is due to the Israeli-imposed border closures which prevent medicine and equipment from entering Gaza and the lack of funding coming into the hospital through the PNA Ministry of Health because of the PNA financial crisis in the wake of the Hamas election victory in January. Medicine and equipment shortages, he noted, reached their highest peak thus far last week. Referrals to other hospitals outside of the Gaza Strip have been impossible—again as a result of Israeli imposed border closures on the Gaza Strip.
Regarding the Israeli destruction of the power plant, Dr. Al-Saqa emphasized that the hospital's electricity is cut off for more 18 hours each day and the hospital is, therefore, relying on back-up generators. The real fear, he said, is that the generators will stop. Patients in the intensive care unit, including premature babies, are particularly susceptible to any interruption in electricity. Further, the hospital's blood bank and drug storage facilities also require electricity.
In order to emphasis the impact of a potential power failure at the hospital, Dr. Thabet Al-Masri, the Chief of the hospital's unit for premature babies explained that there are 33 babies requiring incubators to provide the very sensitive balance of humidity, temperature and oxygen essential for their development. Normally, he noted, the number of premature births is 50-60%, but perhaps as a result of anxiety over the Israeli siege, at present the figure is closer to 70%. Dr. Al Masri emphasized that the nature of work inside the ‘premie' section is such that there are no half-solutions. The lives of these babies are dependent on constant flow of electricity.
For a case study on Al-Shifa hospital's child dialysis patients, please go to: “Gaza Dialysis Patients: Hostage to Politics”