'Losing Lives, Losing Hope': Doctors at Gaza's Biggest Hospital Amid Blackout

"We don't know what to do. We'll lose more and more lives & can do nothing but just watch," a doctor told The Quint.

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"It's devastating... There's no food or fuel. Lives are being lost because there's no access to water or electricity," said a Palestinian doctor – who did not wish to be named – working at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.

Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest medical complex and central hospital in the Gaza Strip, has turned into a refugee camp and a bomb shelter, with severely injured people huddled all over in the hope that they live to see another day, the doctor said.

Gaza City, a Palestinian city in the Gaza Strip, is now under 'complete siege' amid Israeli attacks, with no food, water, or electricity – days after a 'surprise' attack by militant group Hamas rocked Israel on 7 October. The combined death toll in Israel and Palestine has crossed the 3,000 mark, with at least 1,354 killed in Gaza, AFP reported.

Just four hours after The Quint spoke to doctors at Al-Shifa Hospital on 11 October, Gaza turned completely dark – with the sole power station in the Gaza Strip running out of fuel. While the authorities had said that the fuel would last for about 12 hours, earlier in the day, the power station lost its ability to function sooner than expected.

"We don't know what to do. We'll lose more and more lives, but can do nothing but just watch," the doctor told The Quint.


Too Many Patients, Too Little Resources

According to the Palestine Health Ministry's press release on 10 October, the eight hospitals (in the region) are "not sufficient to meet the needs" of the Gaza Strip, where at least 2.3 million people live. Many of these hospitals are also not fully functional – like Al-Shifa's neonatal unit, which has been damaged, or the Beit Hanoun Hospital, which is now inoperative.

For the first few days since 7 October, essential supplies like medicines were sent into Gaza via Egypt. But on 10 October, this area, too, was bombed.

"With the scale of the bombings, we are unfortunately unable to guarantee the security of our medical facilities. This makes it very complicated to operate in this context. On 10 October, bombings close to our facilities partially destroyed our clinic in Gaza City and the house where our international colleagues live," said Sarah Chateau, Head of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Program for Palestine.

MSF is an international, independent organisation that provides medical assistance to those affected by conflict, epidemics, and disasters.

"Immediately, the first thing we did was make a donation (of essential medicines and medical supplies) to the Ministry of Health, whose hospitals are operating at full capacity. There are large numbers of injured people," Chateau told The Quint.

'The Bombings Are Continuous...'

Another doctor, who is also working with Al-Shifa, said that now, even healthcare professionals are unable to handle the load due to constant bombing. For very one life saved, 10 more patients walk into the hospital, he said.

"Every five minutes people are walking into the hospitals. If I could send you photos, you'll see that there are patients everywhere. Sitting in the lawns, in the corridors, on staircases. We have patients everywhere. We are already unable to get people to the operating theatre because there's no electricity. There is constant bombing. If you save one life, there are 10 other incoming patients. We don't know what to do," the doctor explained.

"We're at the start of what looks like it might be a protracted war, yet we're seeing depletion of critical resources happening so early on that hospitals are running short on supplies," Ghassan Abu Sitta, a surgeon and Medical Assistance for Palestine Trustee, who is treating patients at Al-Shifa Hospital, had said on social media.

Chateau said that for healthcare professionals to move around is "almost impossible" given the scale of bombardment.

"It is unprecedented, according to our colleagues in Gaza, who have unfortunately lived through previous wars. In terms of intensity, this bombardment really exceeds anything they have experienced before," Chateau said.

"The bombings are almost continuous. There are very few breaks. We are trying to see if the Ministry of Health can transfer patients to us for outpatient care, but our teams would have to move around – only 200 or 300 metres, but in this context, those 200 or 300 metres are fraught with risk."

How Are Hospitals Managing?

"We are not thinking about medicines or oxygen supply. That is the scale of the tragedy – we are saving as many lives as possible with just basic essentials which we may soon run out of. There are sheets and sheets of patient lists, and we are getting to people whom we have resources to save," the doctor added.

Sana Beg, Director of Communications for MSF, told The Quint that some hospitals are relying on fuel for their generators, and may have just enough for a few days.

"One hospital where MSF works told us that they are changing staff rotations from every two days to every week in order to save fuel for vehicles. The announcement of total blockade in Gaza will only contribute to exacerbating this situation," Beg said.

The humanitarian organisation has moved medical supplies from their two-month emergency reserves to the Al-Awda Hospital in Gaza, and where they reportedly used three weeks worth of stock in the past three days.

"We are seeing shortages of essential medical supplies in hospitals. Our emergency stocks on the ground are limited and will run out quickly if we can't bring in medical equipment and medicines. We are trying to support the health system in Gaza, but to do so, we will need to be able to bring in emergency teams and get those teams out which are less suited to this context of war. There is a need to establish safe passages and those caught up in this cycle of violence must be protected, regardless of identity."
Sana Beg, Director of Communications for MSF

'Will Carry On, Until They Come for Hospitals'

For the last four days, many healthcare professionals in the Palestinian hospitals have not been able to go home, the doctors said. Many others who have at home when the siege began, meanwhile, were unable to make it to the hospitals.

"I don't know if some of my colleagues are alive right now," one of the doctors told The Quint.

But there's no option but to carry on, they say.

"Yes, I am worried for my family and for my own life. But we have to carry on and save innocent lives, until they come for the hospitals," the other said.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  War   Israel   Health 

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