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WHO warns ‘catastrophic’ health situation in Gaza almost impossible to improve

Mourners react next to shrouded bodies of relatives killed following Israeli strikes, at Nasser hospital in the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis on December 9, 2023. (Photo by AFP)

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the ongoing Israeli war on the Gaza Strip is having a “catastrophic” impact on the healthcare sector of the besieged Palestinian territory, where medics are facing an “impossible” job.

“The impact of the conflict on health is catastrophic” and health workers are doing an impossible job in unimaginable conditions, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a WHO executive board special session in the Swiss city of Geneva on Sunday.

He said that the WHO has verified more than 449 attacks on healthcare facilities in the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank since October 7, when Israel launched a destructive aggression against Gaza.

During Sunday’s meeting, the WHO’s 34-member board adopted a resolution by consensus on access to life-saving aid for Gaza.

The document, proposed by Afghanistan, Qatar, Yemen, and Morocco, seeks the passage of medical personnel and supplies into Gaza and requires the WHO to document violence against healthcare workers as well as patients and secure funding to rebuild hospitals.

“I must be frank with you: these tasks are almost impossible in the current circumstances,” Tedros said.

“Resupplying health facilities has become extremely difficult and is deeply compromised by the security situation on the ground and inadequate resupply from outside Gaza.”

He added that medical needs in Gaza had surged and the risk of disease had grown, yet the health system had been reduced to a third of its pre-war capacity.

“Gaza’s health system is on its knees and collapsing,” he said, noting that only 14 out of 36 Gaza hospitals are functioning and that 1,400 hospital beds out of an original 3,500 are still available.

The WHO chief further applauded the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ recent invocation of Article 99 of the UN Charter to push for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, saying it was “the only way to truly protect and promote the health of the people of Gaza.”

He, however, expressed deep regret that the UN Security Council could not adopt a resolution on an urgent Gaza truce after the US vetoed the resolution.

Addressing the WHO meeting via video, Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila deplored the critical shortages of medicines in Gaza, saying, “The urgency of the situation cannot be overstated.”

Israel waged the brutal war on Gaza after the Palestinian Hamas resistance group carried out Operation Al-Aqsa Storm against the occupying entity in retaliation for its intensified atrocities against the Palestinian people.

Since the start of the offensive, the Tel Aviv regime has killed at least 17,997 Palestinians, mostly women and children, and injured 49,229 others.

Thousands more are also missing and presumed dead under the rubble in Gaza, which is under “complete siege” by Israel.

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