A joint UN humanitarian assessment team has visited Gaza’s Al-Shifa hospital “to assess the situation on the ground, conduct a rapid situational analysis, assess medical priorities, and establish logistics options for further missions.”
The mission, led by the World Health Organisation, was coordinated with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to ensure safe passage along the agreed route.
However, WHO disclosed in a statement that it was a high-risk operation in an active conflict zone, with heavy fighting ongoing in close proximity to the hospital.
In the statement, it was disclosed that earlier in the day, the IDF had issued evacuation orders to the remaining internally displaced people who had been seeking refuge on the hospital grounds.
These people, along with a number of mobile patients and hospital staff, had already vacated the facility by the time the team arrived.
“Due to time limits associated with the security situation, the team was able to spend only one hour inside the hospital, which they described as a ‘death zone’ and the situation as ‘desperate,’ the WHO said.
The team, which included public health experts, logistics officers and security staff from various United Nations departments, also saw visible signs of shelling and gunfire.
WHO revealed in the statement that the team saw a mass grave at the entrance of the hospital and was told more than 80 people were buried there.
According to the UN health agency, lack of clean water, fuel, medicines, food and other essential aid has led the hospital to “essentially stop functioning as a medical facility.”
“The team observed that due to the security situation, it has been impossible for the staff to carry out effective waste management in the hospital. Corridors and the hospital grounds were filled with medical and solid waste, increasing the risk of infection.
“Patients and health staff with whom they spoke were terrified for their safety and health, and pleaded for evacuation. Al-Shifa Hospital can no longer admit patients, with the injured and sick now being directed to the seriously overwhelmed and barely functioning Indonesian Hospital.”World Health Organisation
“With several patient deaths having occurred over the previous 2 to 3 days due to the shutting down of medical services,” the statement revealed that there were 25 health workers and 291 patients remaining in Al-Shifa.
It added, “Patients include 32 babies in extremely critical condition, two people in intensive care without ventilation, and 22 dialysis patients whose access to life-saving treatment has been severely compromised.”
Plan For Evacuations Is In The Making
Moreover, it was noted in the statement that WHO and partners are urgently developing plans for the immediate evacuation of the remaining patients, staff and their families at Al-Shifa.
It said that over the next 24–72 hours, pending guarantees of safe passage by parties to the conflict, additional missions are being arranged to urgently transport patients from Al-Shifa to Nasser Medical Complex and European Gaza Hospital in the south of Gaza.
However, WHO admitted that these hospitals are already working beyond capacity, and new referrals from Al-Shifa Hospital “will further strain overburdened health staff and resources.”
The health agency “is deeply concerned” about the safety and health needs of patients, health workers as well as internally displaced people sheltering at the few remaining partially functional hospitals in the north, which it said, are facing the risk of closure due to a lack of fuel, water, medical supplies, food, and the intense hostilities.
Furthermore, WHO called for immediate efforts to be made to restore the functionality of Al-Shifa and all other hospitals so as to provide urgently needed health care services in Gaza.
It also echoed its plea for collective efforts to bring an end to the hostilities and humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.
“We call for an immediate ceasefire, the sustained flow of humanitarian assistance at scale, unhindered humanitarian access to all of those in need, the unconditional release of all hostages, and the cessation of attacks on health care and other vital infrastructure.”World Health Organisation
“The extreme suffering of the people of Gaza demands that we respond immediately and concretely with humanity and compassion,” it added.