Factsheet “Gaza facing two viruses: COVID-19 and the occupation” – occupied Palestinian territory

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The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the Gaza Strip against the backdrop of already dire living conditions endured by more than two million Palestinians due to Israel’s stifling closure and blockade. The closure paralyzes all aspects of life in Gaza, affects economic, social and cultural rights and reduces the ability of service sectors – especially the health sector and infrastructure – to serve the population and meet their needs. , which makes an effective response difficult. the outbreak of the pandemic, which has aggravated the humanitarian crisis in Gaza in an unprecedented way.

International human rights law (IHRL) pays great attention to the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Under international human rights law and international humanitarian law, Israel, as the occupying power, has obligations towards the civilian population living in the territory it occupies, particularly with regard to the provision of services of health to civilians, including detainees. In defiance of international law, Israeli authorities imposed a regime of institutionalized discrimination, oppression and apartheid against Palestinians and flaunted the supply of vaccines while tightening movement restrictions on Palestinians – especially residents of the Gaza Strip – and obstructing the delivery of vaccines and medical supplies to Gaza. As a result, the health crisis has deepened and threats to the lives of patients and people have increased, with the Ministry of Health in Gaza declaring its inability to control the spread of the virus due to the limited resources available.1

This fact sheet, which covers the period from March 4, 2020 to September 11, 2022, describes Al Mezan’s monitoring of developments in the Gaza Strip in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular the measures and policies put in place. implemented by the Israeli authorities which have limited the ability of residents and institutions to respond to the virus.

Restrictions on Gaza crossings and health concerns

  • Despite the strict preventive health measures imposed by the Palestinian Ministry of Health (MOH), on August 24, 2020, it was confirmed that several cases of COVID-19 had been detected in the Gaza community. At this point, controlling the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip was mission impossible, especially given the high population density, restricted area of ​​the Strip, and scarce health resources. At the time of writing this report, the total number of people infected with COVID-19 and its variants in the Gaza Strip was 272,193, with 2,004 confirmed deaths. 32.24% of the population of Gaza has been vaccinated, including 56% of people aged 16 and over.

  • Israeli authorities have banned the entry of drugs, medical devices, equipment, spare parts and other materials needed to repair and maintain medical devices. These policies have prevented hospitals in Gaza from accessing some essential diagnostic and therapeutic resources.

  • Medical institutions in the Gaza Strip have faced a shortage of devices and equipment to diagnose the virus. During the pandemic, there has been a shortage of lab equipment for coronavirus testing. As a result, the Ministry of Health had stopped testing for COVID-19, especially after PCR test kits ran out,4 which affected doctors’ ability to monitor patient development and prescribe drugs. appropriate.

  • The health crisis has further worsened due to the shortage of beds in intensive care units (ICU) equipped with ventilators, medical oxygen and preventive means in medical institutions.

  • Workforce development in the health sector has been hampered by Israel’s frequent refusal to issue exit permits to medical personnel seeking to leave Gaza for external training courses, scientific conferences and other professional development opportunities that would enable them to acquire up-to-date skills and knowledge. .

  • The acute and chronic electricity deficit doubled during the pandemic, with electricity hours decreasing to four hours followed by 20 hours of power outage.

  • The Ministry of Health had to keep and store the vaccines – which require a special cold chain between -20 C° and -80 C° – in blood bank refrigerators. Power shortages have also affected patients and their living conditions and limited the ability to operate essential and life-saving facilities and structures. In August 2020, Israeli authorities banned the entry of industrial fuel at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, leading to a reduction in the hours of electricity supplied.

  • As a result, the water distribution schedule was affected and many households were deprived of receiving enough water for their domestic use. The health crisis, hygiene and environmental pollution have together aggravated and multiplied the severity of the disease.

Michael A. Bynum