Ambulances Unable to Reach the Wounded in Gaza Due to Communication Blackout: WHO

All major UN and other agencies involved in giving humanitarian aid say they have lost touch with their ground staff in Gaza.

New Delhi: As a communication blackout persists in Gaza, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that with wounded individuals arriving at hospitals every hour, ambulances are unable to reach them due to the absence of communication facilities.

In a statement issued on Saturday (October 28), the WHO has said it was unable to contact its staff members on the ground in Gaza.

Similar concerns have been expressed by many other UN agencies and other humanitarian organisations working in Gaza.

“[The] WHO has not been able to communicate with its staff in Gaza nor have other agencies,” it said. “Furthermore, [the] WHO is trying to gather information on the overall impact on civilians and healthcare,” it added.

It said that the reports of bombardment near the Indonesia and Al Shifa hospitals were “gravely concerning”.

In a statement on Saturday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, also voiced the same concern.

“Ambulances and civil defence teams are no longer able to locate the injured, or the thousands of people estimated to be still under the rubble,” he said.

Watch | in a Gaza Hospital, No Power, Lack of Medicines, Many Operations Happening Without Anesthesia

Turk added that the civilians were no longer able to receive updated information on where they could access humanitarian relief and where they may be in less danger. “Many journalists can now no longer report on the situation,” he added.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), as many as 7,326 people have been killed in Gaza, of which 66% were women and children, even since the violence started. The OCHA in its October 27 update also said more than 18,000 people have been injured.

More than one-third of the hospitals and two-third of the primary health care centres have been shut down in Gaza. This not only puts at risk the wounded individuals who need urgent treatment but also jeopardises the well-being of 1,000 kidney failure patients who require regular dialysis.

According to the WHO office in Palestine, 80% of the dialysis facilities are in northern Gaza, which has been the worst hit, and where Israel has issued evacuation orders.

As many as 9,000 cancer patients who require chemotherapy and other care are also left with almost no care.

There are 130 neonates who require incubation. The incubators need electricity to function, the absence of which means these children will die once power goes off.

The office also said there are 50,000 pregnant women, with an average of 183 births taking place every day. With healthcare getting hit, all these people are badly affected.

Addressing a press conference on October 19, WHO’s Rik Peeperkorn had pointed out that while the immediate trauma injuries get attention, the people suffering from non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular ailments, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, don’t. Similarly, women who require emergency obstetric care need attention.

The WHO’s office in Palestine reported that at the Shifa hospital – the biggest hospital of Gaza – the bed occupancy rate has reached 171%. In other words, the hospital is treating nearly three times the patients vis à vis its bed capacity. The overall occupancy rate at seven major hospitals stands at about 119%.

“This puts pressure on the staff to free up beds for new patients, risking patient safety,” it said in a daily report.

It also reported that due to severe fuel shortages, six hospitals have already halted their operations.

It also warned that the medical equipment was increasingly becoming non-functional, affecting diagnostic and treatment capacities.

Drinking water has been a major concern because most of the available water used to come from the ground. It is heavily salty and therefore requires desalination. But the abject lack of fuel has led to near complete halt of desalination plant operations.

According to the last OCHA update, water consumption has gone down to less than 92% as compared to the “pre-hostilities” days. It said most of the 65 sewage pumping stations were also shut due to no fuel, thus exposing people to a host of infections. And, therefore, the outbreak of large-scale epidemics was a reality.