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Health care in Gaza: respiratory infections, diarrhea, scabies, Hepatitis, shrapnel wounds, & PTSD

1.9 million Palestinians, including women and children, have had to flee their homes in Gaza since October 7. All photos: Team Yousef Ruzzi/Juzoor

1.9 million Palestinians, including women and children, have had to flee their homes in Gaza since October 7. All photos: Team Yousef Ruzzi/Juzoor

“I have been a doctor working for Juzoor for seven years, but the past half year has been the most challenging time of my life," says Dr. Mohammad.

Dr. Mohammad is a CARE partner working with Juzoor for Health and Social Development, one of the few organizations still operational in northern Gaza.

Since Oct. 7, 1.9 million Palestinians in Gaza have had to flee their homes and now live in crowded conditions where basic sanitation has broken down. Most of the displaced have no access to safe water, while an average of 160 people share one toilet, and 700 people one shower facility.

The lack of clean water and sanitation, in addition to a lack of food, sleep, and water, creates fertile ground for the rapid spread of diseases.

Over 586,000 cases of acute respiratory infections and over 220,000 cases of diarrhea have been reported since October, in addition to a high prevalence of scabies, skin rashes, and Hepatitis A.

All of this in addition to people dealing with severe injuries from shrapnel and battling with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and kidney disease.

Dr. Mohammad and his team at Juzoor, a CARE partner, one of the few organizations that are still operational in northern Gaza.

“We see hundreds of patients in our health centers every day,” says Dr.Mohammad. “There is so much need; almost everyone is sick. The most vulnerable people are children and women.”

According to the United Nations, more than a million women and girls in Gaza are facing inhumane living conditions and critical health risks due to the lack of safe water and basic sanitation services.

“Since October 7, life is dictated by pain: both physical and mental suffering,” says Amal, 35, a mother of five children.

“Before the war, life was good,” says Amal, 35, mother of five who now lives in Northern Gaza.

“We were healthy, and my husband and I enjoyed life with our five children. Since October 7, life is dictated by pain: both physical and mental suffering. Our life was turned upside down. The only way I can think of describing how it feels is jumping off a plane without a parachute and hitting the ground.”

“Of the 36 main hospitals that used to serve over two million Gazans, only 10 remain somewhat functional, with severe limitations on the types of services they can deliver,” the World Health Organization said in an April 6 news release. “The proposed military incursion into Rafah can only result in further diminution of access to health care and would have unimaginable health consequences. The systematic dismantling of health care must end.”

A medical worker checks on Omar, 12.

“When the war started, we fled our home and stayed at my aunt’s house,” says Omar, 12. “When her house got attacked, we stayed at a school, and after a while decided to go back to our house. Other family members came and joined us as they had to flee. Unfortunately, our house got hit with everyone in it. No one died, but we all were injured. I had burns on my face, my arms, and legs. I still have missile fragments in my body. It’s hard to walk or play, especially with my foot hurting so much.”

Twice as many children now require mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) in the Gaza Strip, compared with pre-war estimates. UNICEF estimates that almost all of Gaza’s 1.2 million children are in need of MHPSS. Moreover, according to UNICEF, “at least 17,000 children in Gaza are unaccompanied or separated” from their parents and “due to the sheer lack of food, water and shelter, extended families are distressed and face challenges to immediately take care of another child as they themselves are struggling to cater for their own children and family.”

“The health team is really helpful. They are a true blessing in this dire time," says Sara, 36, mother of five children.

Sara, 36, mother of five: “Stress, sadness, and the lack of water and food have made my high blood pressure much worse.”

“We fled our home the day after the war started. There was bombing everywhere around us. I ran as fast as I could with my children. I didn’t think we would survive. We’ve been staying at this school here for a while now. Life has become so tiring, both psychologically and mentally. I cannot sleep, and my thoughts and fears are keeping me up all night. How am I going to feed my children tomorrow? Are we going to have a few sips of water to drink? Will the children cry again tomorrow, afraid of the bombings, and suffering from illness all the time?

“I also worry about my own health. Since my last pregnancy, I suffer from high blood pressure. The stress, sadness, and fear this war are inflicting on me cause me to be in pain most of the time. I cannot adhere to the proper diet for high blood pressure — we are lucky if we can eat some old breadcrumbs or canned tuna. When I get really bad headaches and feel dizzy, I come to the health post here. The health team is really helpful. They are a true blessing in this dire time.”

As of March 25, the WHO has recorded 586,402 cases of acute respiratory infections, 81,259 cases of scabies and lice, 46,195 cases of skin rashes, 19,117 cases of jaundice and 7,037 cases of chicken pox. Since then, the WHO has reported 47 percent (4,416 out of 9,389) of patients who submitted requests for medical evacuation abroad have been approved and 80 percent of the approved cases (3,529) have been evacuated.

“The dust from all the bombing and the lack of water sometimes makes it [breathing] unbearable,” says Dr. Ali.

“I suffer from breathing issues; they have gotten a lot worse since the war started,” says Dr. Ali, 65. “The dust from all the bombing and the lack of water sometimes makes it unbearable. I also have high blood pressure and take cholesterol medication to avoid having a stroke. Thankfully, the doctors and nurses working for Juzoor help me a lot. But I am scared what will happen if the medications are not available anymore. I used to have money and was able to buy for my family whatever we needed. We have run out of money now. I never thought the war would last for as long as it did.”

“I was so scared that something could happen to my children,” says Ali.

“On October 7, I received a phone call and was told we should evacuate our home,” says Ali, 40. “It was 11 pm. We immediately left our house. I was so scared that something could happen to my children. It was still warm then, and all we took with us were the clothes we were wearing. We’ve been freezing a lot these past months. The main thing that I can think of is that I want to keep my children safe, and that I want to make sure they can eat. I can already see the impact these past months have had on them in terms of lack of water and food. They are sick all the time, and they are not getting the vitamins they need. It kills me inside to think that this might also impact their lives longer-term.”

CARE continues to call for an immediate ceasefire, the return of all hostages, and the passage of unfettered humanitarian aid into Gaza.

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