The Public Health Disaster in Gaza Adds to the Death Spiral

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor reported on Dec. 9 that infectious diseases and epidemics are spreading in Gaza “in a way that is catastrophic and unprecedented in modern history”. The release, published by the United Nations’ Office of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), cites record numbers of displaced people, the lack of clean drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and malnutrition as factors leading to the public health disaster.

Many of the most vulnerable populations in Gaza, children, the aged, the disabled and wounded, have taken refuge in the overcrowded shelter centers, which record high rates of infectious diseases, “including diarrhea, acute respiratory and skin infections”, as well as influenza and hygiene-related diseases. In addition, reports the Monitor, the power outages and shortage of delivered fuel have “led to the total closure of water desalination and sewage plants, greatly increasing the risk of bacterial infections spreading, as polluted drinking water transmits diarrhea-related diseases such as dysentery, typhoid, and polio.” On top of all this, the normal daily processing of waste has been disrupted, due to the danger to municipal crews and the inability to access the main landfills on Gaza’s border.

According to an item in the Israeli daily Haaretz, blood tests taken on some of the Israeli hostages released show signs of dangerous viruses, that “have apparently reached Gaza’s water supply”. As we all know, disease respects no borders and cannot be stopped by armies.

On the backdrop of this acute danger, the World Health Organization held an emergency session on Dec. 10, during which the resolution submittedby Afghanistan, Morocco, Qatar and Yemen, calling for unimpeded passage of WHO medical personnel and supplies into Gaza was passed by the 34-member board. It was adopted by consensus, after the United States made known that it would not oppose the text of the motion.

Israel is not on the board of the WHO, but the Israeli Ambassador to UN agencies in Geneva called the adoption of the motion a “complete moral failure”. Moreover, the Netanyahu government revoked the visa granted to the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Lynn Hastings, after she urged the setting up of more safe zones in Gaza to protect the civilian population.

The release by the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor calls for “a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and the lifting of Israel’s strict siege, imposed on civilians as a collective punishment”, noting that the siege itself is war crime.

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