The World Health Organization (WHO) has carried out high-risk missions to provide aid to hospitals in Gaza, where intense fighting, displacement, and hunger have created a humanitarian crisis. The WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has urged the international community to take urgent action to protect the population of Gaza and the humanitarian workers who are trying to help them.
On Tuesday, December 26, WHO teams visited two hospitals in Gaza – Al-Shifa in the north and Al-Amal Palestine Red Crescent Society in the south – to deliver fuel, medical supplies, and materials for a kitchen. Both hospitals are also serving as shelters for thousands of people who have fled their homes due to the war.
At Al-Amal, WHO staff witnessed the damage caused by recent strikes that disabled the hospital’s radio tower and the central ambulance dispatch system, affecting more than 1.5 million people. The hospital also had only five functioning ambulances out of nine, and few toilets for the patients and the displaced people. WHO staff said they could not walk inside the hospital without stepping over people.
While travelling across Gaza, WHO staff also saw tens of thousands of people escaping the heavy bombardment in the Khan Younis and Middle Area, on foot, on donkeys, or in cars. They saw people building makeshift shelters along the road.
Dr. Rik Peeperkorn, WHO Representative in WHO’s office for the West Bank and Gaza, said he was extremely concerned that the new wave of displacement would worsen the situation of the health facilities in the south, which were already overwhelmed by the population’s needs. He said the mass movement of people would also increase the risk of infectious diseases and make it harder to deliver humanitarian aid.
According to the latest WHO assessments, Gaza has 13 partially functioning hospitals, 2 minimally functioning ones, and 21 that are not functioning at all. One of them is Nasser Medical Complex, the most important referral hospital in Southern Gaza, which is partially functioning. Dr. Peeperkorn said he was alarmed by the reports of residential areas being ordered to evacuate near the hospital, which could make it impossible for ambulances, patients, staff, and WHO and partners to reach the complex.
Dr. Tedros said that the safety of the WHO staff and partners was also at risk, as they faced attacks and obstacles while delivering aid. He said that the hunger and desperation of the people in Gaza was also limiting the WHO’s ability to supply medicines, medical supplies, and fuel to hospitals, as hungry people stopped their convoys in search of food.
He said: “The safety of our staff and partners is paramount, but we will not abandon the people of Gaza who need our help. We call on all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and to ensure the protection of civilians and humanitarian workers. We also call on the international community to act now to end this tragedy and to support the health system in Gaza.”