Daily hospitalizations due to COVID-19 continue to rise in the Gaza Strip, bringing the average of serious and critical cases to 20 percent of confirmed cases. Two million Palestinians in Gaza are at an increasing risk of contracting the virus amid a severely depleted healthcare system, which is largely attributable to Israel’s ongoing 14-year closure. Al Mezan Center for Human Rights (Al Mezan) is particularly concerned over emerging reports of shortages in intensive care unit beds, ventilators, medical oxygen, and testing kits, which calls for an urgent intervention to support the medical sector.
In its latest update on Saturday, 28 November 2020, the Palestinian Ministry of Health (MoH) in Gaza noted that the last round of COVID-19 testing brought the total to 19,160 confirmed cases, including 90 deaths. The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations rose to 334 cases, occupying 78 percent of the hospital beds designated for COVID-19 in-patients.
Alarmingly, medical oxygen levels in hospitals are dangerously low due to the heavy demand. For instance, oxygen consumption in European Gaza Hospital is estimated at 1,500-1,800 liters per minute, while the hospital can currently produce a maximum of 2,200 liters of oxygen per minute. Hospitals in Gaza equipped to deal with COVID-19 cases urgently need to increase the number of medical oxygen generators to ramp up oxygen supplies. Additional supplemental oxygen and ventilation devices are also needed to administer assisted ventilation therapies.
As the number of COVID-19 patients in need of hospital admittance rises steadily, health facilities struggle to maintain adequate surplus of fully-equipped ICU beds for patients and additional PPE for staff. Additionally, the MoH testing capacity is capped at around 3,000 daily tests due to the limited number of PCR machines at its disposal.
The unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases in Gaza will soon overwhelm the underequipped health sector. Al Mezan warns of a looming catastrophe facing the population in Gaza, and highlights the role of Israel’s closure and punitive measures in disrupting the health sector’s development. Al Mezan calls on the international community to exert pressure on Israel, the occupying power, to lift the blockade and closure, and to urgently mobilize support for residents of the Gaza Strip, including by ramping up supply of medical equipment necessary to fight the pandemic.
 Dr. Abdulsalam Sabbah, Director General of the MoH hospitals in Gaza, interviewed by Al Mezan on 25 November 2020.