SEATTLE, Washington — The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every country across the world. Some territories that are not recognized as countries, like the Gaza strip, are being disproportionately affected. The Gaza strip is part of two Palestinian territories bordering Israel, its counterpart being the West Bank. The COVID-19 crisis has heavily affected the area due to the low quality of Gaza’s health infrastructure, low resource security and widespread poverty.
COVID-19 in Gaza
Al Jereera reported the first COVID-19 related death in May, in addition to a “sharp rise” in cases. Since then, Gaza and the surrounding countries have taken precautions to fight the spread of the virus. One of the initial issues Gaza had in combating coronavirus spread was travel. Gaza implemented border closure, with the exception of some groups of returning Palestinians. However, this caused new outbreaks, bringing the number of cases to 55 at the end of May. Though there are only about 2 million people living in Gaza, concerns have mounted due to the fractured nature of Gaza’s health infrastructure and widespread poverty in the territory.
Precautions Gaza Is Taking to Fight COVID
The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has reported that there are a number of precautions the territory is taking to help slow the spread and contain the virus. Those precautions include:
Implementing a mandatory quarantine for anyone who returned to Gaza, with “25 locations throughout the territory”
Halting “non-emergency surgeries” until further notice
Suspending all other healthcare services (unless essential) until further notice
Only 14 healthcare centers will be accessible to those with non-COVID related issues
Closure of public events and spaces
Poverty and Resource Insecurity
Poverty affects people’s ability to provide essential resources for their families. One of the strategies used to combat COVID-19 is quarantining, but without the ability to stock up on resources, families cannot abide by those mandates. Even prior to the pandemic in October 2019, the health ministry in Gaza reported that “poverty and unemployment had reached nearly 75%.”
The ministry also warned at the time that around “70% of people are food insecure.” Resources and food insecurity are major threats to human health under normal circumstances. With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, however, proper nutrition and a stockpile of health supplies have become all the more crucial. Additionally, less than 10% of the Gaza water supply is safe to use. Water is even more essential in the COVID-19 era due to its importance for sanitation purposes. Dangerously low access to safe water only emphasizes that Gaza’s health infrastructure and poverty levels are significantly detrimental to human health.
Lack of Medical Supplies and Population Concentration in Gaza
Both the lack of medical supplies and the extremely concentrated population centers in Gaza make it a prime climate for the spread of COVID-19. As a contagious disease, COVID thrives in locations packed with people. This makes Gaza particularly susceptible, especially within the refugee camps. In addition, the lack of basic medical supplies makes it difficult to meet standards to keep both patients and medical professionals safe from exposure. An article written by Dr. Tarek Loubani, who has recently returned from Gaza after seeing the effects, outlined just how dire the situation currently is. He described how “there are only 87 ventilators in Gaza for a population of 2 million.” Dr. Loubani also noted how he had “seen many of these units; many are not fit for purpose in the best of times and most are already being used.”
The current situation with Gaza’s health infrastructure is dire and needs as much international attention and aid as possible. The UN and its various branches are positively contributing to fighting the crisis thus far. For example, OCHA reports that the UN Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) is “supporting 15 implementing partners by procuring essential hygiene supplies to prevent infection transmission in healthcare settings and communities.” With valuable contributions from visions like UNICEF and other humanitarian aid currently going to Gaza, the damages will be lessened. However, concerns about the virus continue for Palestinians and medical professionals.
– Kiahna Stephens