WHO condemns 'abrupt halt' to medical evacuations from Gaza

AFP , Tuesday 28 May 2024

Desperately needed medical evacuations from Gaza, already very limited, came to a full stop when Israel launched its military offensive on Rafah three weeks ago, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday.

Palestinians fleeing from the southern Gaza city of Rafah during an Israeli ground and air offensive
Palestinians fleeing from the southern Gaza city of Rafah during an Israeli ground and air offensive in the city on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. AP


The United Nations health agency has long been pleading for Israeli permission to evacuate more critically ill and severely wounded people from Gaza.

Thousands of Gaza residents are estimated to require urgent medical evacuation but few have been able to leave the besieged Palestinian territory since war erupted there nearly eight months ago.

WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said that since Israel launched its military offensive in the densely crowded southern city of Rafah in early May, "there's been an abrupt halt to all medical evacuations".

She warned that the cut-off meant more people would die waiting for treatment.

Before the war in the Gaza Strip erupted on October 7 attacks, around 50 to 100 people left the enclave every day with medical referrals for complex treatments that were not available in the Palestinian territory, including for cancer.

"Those people didn't go away simply because the conflict started, so they all still need a referral," Harris told reporters in Geneva.

And since services in Gaza have been disastrously disrupted by the war, far more people need to leave to get services they used to access inside the strip, like chemotherapy or dialysis, she said.

In addition, thousands now need to evacuate after suffering severe trauma injuries in the war.

WHO estimates that there are now typically at any given time "around 10,000 people who need to be evacuated... to receive the much-needed medical treatment elsewhere", Harris said.

They include more than 6,000 trauma-related patients and at least 2,000 patients with serious chronic conditions, like cancer, she said.

Since the complete halt to medical evacuations from Gaza on May 8, an additional 1,000 critically ill and wounded patients have been added to that list, Harris said.

Before the cut-off, WHO had received approval from Israel for 5,800 medical evacuations, around just half of the number it had requested since the war began.

Actually, of those 5,800, only 4,900 patients had been able to leave, Harris said.

Since Oct.7, Israel's brutal military campaign on the Gaza Strip has killed at least 36,096 people, most of them women and children, with another 81,000 wounded, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

* This story was edited by Ahram Online.

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