The dire state of Gaza’s health system as Israel’s war with Hamas ravages on has meant pregnant women are undergoing caesarean section surgery without anaesthetic and babies are having to drink potentially contaminated formula.
Humanitarian agency CARE International reports an average 160 pregnant women a day are expected to give birth over the next month in Gaza while the Strip faces what the United Nations has called a “humanitarian crisis”.
CARE International received reports last week that some women have undergone c-sections without anaesthetic as a result of Israel’s tightened blockade of Gaza that has restricted delivery of medical supplies.
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“I can only imagine how afraid these women are, for themselves and their babies, all while suffering in unbearable pain,” CARE’s West Bank and Gaza country director Hibba Tibbi said.
Reports of doctors having to perform surgeries without anaesthetic and using vinegar to clean wounds have also been confirmed by local doctors at different hospitals, as well as the World Health Organisation.
Hospitals are running low on fuel for generators meaning patients, including babies, are at risk of medical equipment being switched off. Credit: UNFPA
“Our OT (operating theatre) was full, so we started operating on the floor, in the corridor,” Gaza surgeon Dr Mohammed Obeid told Medecins Sans Frontier.
“This lady, who is the mother, brought her young daughter who is about 13 years old, in a wheelchair. And on the floor, I’m operating on her younger son, a nine-year-old who has a semi-amputated foot
“We lack instruments and we have a lot of cases, so we just amputated under slight sedation. The anaesthetist tried to keep the boy’s mouth open to prevent strangulation.
“ We amputated him in front of his mother and his sister because there is no space and the sister was waiting to be operated on next.
“You cannot imagine. This girl, this 13-year-old waiting for an operation, looking at me as I am amputating the mid-foot of her brother.”
Babies without safe milk
Gaza’s largest hospital, Al Shifa Hospital, has capacity for up to 700 patients, but staff are overwhelmed with more than 5000 patients, some of them being treated on the floor or in corridors with no beds.
Midwife Yasmin Ahmed said told the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) there was “no room to stand, not even half a metre”.
Dr Naser Bulbul said he was caring for a number of orphaned newborn babies whose families had not been found.
“We don’t know what to do as we are facing a severe shortage of medical supplies, ventilators and essential life-saving medicine, especially the ones administered to premature babies in the first two hours of life,” he told the UNFPA.
“We had to perform a premature delivery of a foetus from the mother’s womb while she was dying.
“All these infants are born through emergency c-sections because of fear and terror.”
While some aid has been delivered into Gaza, humanitarian agencies have warned it is not nearly enough to support the 2.3 million people who live in the Strip and there are calls to increase aid and open more border crossings.
The United Nations reported thousands of desperate Palestinians are taking basic items like flour and hygiene supplies from warehouses, desperate to survive in conditions that the UN says are “catastrophic”.
A number of newborn babies in Gaza are orphans. Credit: UNFPA
There is a lack of clean water because of damaged and inoperable water supply infrastructure, with Oxfam estimating only 4 per cent of water in Gaza is drinkable.
Tibi said this has meant newborn babies, who are recommended to drink only sterilised water with milk formula, are being given potentially contaminated water.
“We have also tried to create baby kits with powder milk, diapers, and baby clothing, unsuccessfully, as none of this can be found within the Gaza Strip anymore, and we have been unable for the time being to bring humanitarian supplies from outside the enclave,” Tibi said.
Doctors in Gaza are running out of medicine needed to support premature babies. Credit: UNPFA
CARE International as well as ActionAid are also reporting breastfeeding mothers were struggling to maintain their milk supply and feed their children because of stress and fear.
The siege, which has already lasted more than three weeks, has also meant electricity supply is cut off and one-third of hospitals in Gaza and two-thirds of primary care clinics have closed down.
The remaining hospitals are running on generators which have limited fuel, putting newborn incubators are at risk of being turned off.
“This is extreme suffering. We don’t know what will happen to them in the near future,” Bulbul said about the newborns.
More than 8,800 Palestinians have been killed since Israel declared war following Hamas’ surprise attack on October 7, which killed 1400 Israelis.
It is estimated about 135 hostages with foreign passports remain in Gaza, according to CNN.
Women are undergoing c-sections without anaesthetic, according to locals and aid organisations in Gaza. Credit: UNFPA
Humanitarian organisation Save The Children said the number of Palestinian children reported killed has surpassed the annual number of children killed in armed conflict globally in each of the past four years.
While The UN General Assembly passed a resolution with the support of 120 member states demanding an immediate and sustained humanitarian truce, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear on Monday any form of truce would not happen.
“Just as the United States would not agree to a ceasefire after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, or after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Israel will not agree to a cessation of hostilities with Hamas after the horrific attacks of October 7,” he said.
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