No functional hospital left in northern Gaza, WHO says

The UN agency describes the situation as ‘beyond catastrophic’ with patients begging for food and water.

Medics treat Palestinians injured in Israeli bombardment, at Nasser hospital in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on December 17, 2023, [Mahmud HAMS / AFP]
Medics treat Palestinians injured in an Israeli bombardment at the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip [Mahmud Hams/AFP]

Northern Gaza has been left without a functional hospital due to a lack of fuel, staff and supplies, the World Health Organization (WHO) says as Israel has targeted medical facilities.

The United Nations health agency on Thursday said it had led missions to two badly damaged hospitals, al-Shifa and Ahli, in the north of the enclave.

It described “unbearable” scenes of largely abandoned patients begging for food and water.

“Our staff are running out of words to describe the beyond catastrophic situation facing remaining patients and health workers,” said Richard Peeperkorn, the WHO representative for the occupied Palestinian territory.

Only nine out of 36 health facilities were partially functional in the whole of Gaza, according to the WHO. All those facilities are concentrated in southern Gaza.

“There are actually no functional hospitals left in the north,” Peeperkorn told reporters via video link from Jerusalem.

Describing Ahli Arab Hospital as a “shell of a hospital”, Peeperkorn said it resembled a hospice providing very limited care. About 10 staff, all junior doctors and nurses, continue to provide basic first aid, pain management and wound care with scant resources, he said.

“Until two days ago, it was the only hospital where injured people could get surgery in northern Gaza and that was overwhelmed with patients needing emergency care,” he said.

“There are no operating theatres any more due to the lack of fuel, power, medical supplies and health workers, including surgeons and other specialists.”

The bodies of victims from recent Israeli attacks were lined up in the hospital’s courtyard because they could not be given safe and dignified burials, he said.

Israeli soldiers stand outside Shifa Hospital in Gaza City
Israeli soldiers outside Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City [File: Victor R. Caivano/AP]

‘Stop the bloodshed’

In addition to Ahli Arab Hospital, northern Gaza had only three other minimally functioning health facilities: al-Shifa, al-Awda and Assahaba Medical Complex, which Peeperkorn said were sheltering thousands of displaced people.

Some patients at Ahli had been waiting for surgeries for weeks or if they had been operated on, they faced the risk of a postoperative infection due to the lack of antibiotics and other drugs, he added.

“All these patients cannot move and need to be transferred urgently to have a chance to survive,” he said, reiterating the WHO’s call for a humanitarian ceasefire.

“This is needed now to reinforce and restock remaining health facilities, deliver medical services needed by thousands of injured people and those needing other essential care, and, above all, to stop the bloodshed and death.”

Peeperkorn made the comments as increasingly frantic diplomatic efforts are under way to secure another pause in the war, which has already killed more than 20,000 Palestinians, 70 percent of them women and children.

The grim milestone was passed on Wednesday when the UN Security Council postponed a key vote on a draft resolution to boost humanitarian aid for Gaza for a third time to avoid a veto from the United States, which traditionally shields its ally Israel from UN action.

The council is due to vote on a pause in hostilities and aid delivery to the Gaza Strip on Thursday.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies