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Occupied Lives: Switching off hospitals


Dr. Kamal Abu Obada, Deputy
Director of the Intensive Care Unit at al-Shifa hospital attends to one of his



The reality generated by Israel’s
longstanding illegal closure, the international sanctions against Gaza’s
authorities, and political in-fighting between the Ministries in Gaza and
Ramallah, has resulted in a fuel and electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip. Consequently,
water and sanitation installations, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities
are facing severe difficulties in providing basic services to the people of
Gaza, undermining the right to health and the right to life. Such problems have
been a consistent feature of life in the Gaza Strip since the current closure
was imposed in 2007.



In January 2011, due to an
unreliable supply and high costs, the authorities in the Gaza Strip stopped
importing industrial fuel from Israel. Since then the Gaza Strip has relied on
inherently unreliable smuggled fuel from Eypt. On 14 February 2012, a few days
after the fuel supply from Egypt through tunnels into the Gaza Strip was
stopped, Gaza’s only power plant was forced to shut down, leaving large parts
of the Gaza Strip with only 6 hours of electricity daily. These electricity
shortages needlessly endanger patients’ lives and well-being. During times of
intensified violence, like the past 5 days, hospitals struggle to cope with the
influx of wounded people. In the most recent Israeli attacks against the Gaza
Strip 24 Palestinians were killed and 70 were wounded, most of them civilians.


The Director of Engineering and
Maintenance in Gaza’s al-Shifa Hospital, Eng. Bassam Ali al-Hamadeen, deals
with the consequences of the fuel and electricity crisis every day. “The
patients most at risk are those in the intensive care unit, the babies in the
nurseries, kidney dialysis patients and those in need of surgery. Thank God, no
patients have died until now. However, we face other types of losses due to the
electricity crisis. In the past two weeks generators of 6 basic health clinics
across the Gaza Strip broke. They are simply not built to operate for the
amount of time we need them. Generators are made for brief emergencies, of a
few hours, only. Besides that, our generators and other machines are damaged
and broken by the power being cut and returning constantly. Also, the
fluctuation in power levels is harmful to our equipment. Now we lack the spare
parts and oils to maintain the machines.”



Kamal Abu Obada, the Deputy Director
of the Intensive Care Unit at al-Shifa hospital, is constantly aware of the
risks that the patients he cares for are facing. “For me as a doctor this is
all very depressing. All the time I’m working to keep the patients alive and
when the electricity is cut they are all at risk. If something happens to them
my efforts were all in vain.”



During periods of critical shortage
of fuel and electricity the Ministry of Health declares a state of emergency,
like they did in February. During these periods, all surgery is suspended,
except for emergency operations. The air-conditioning is cut (cooling and
heating), and the water purification and laundry services are limited, with
evident hygiene and sanitation implications. Abu Obada explains: “During the
state of emergency everything stops. We are not able to send our patients for
surgery, unless it is absolutely necessary. We have to suspend other forms of
treatment as well as tests and diagnostics.”



He continues: “The moment the
electricity is cut, we rush to the patients and provide them with oxygen
manually using oxygen bags. But we face two problems in doing this. Firstly, we
simply don’t have enough manpower to attend to all the patients during the
cuts. Also, it is difficult to control the quantity of oxygen manually, risking
ruptures in the lungs when squeezing too much air out of the bag into the
patient’s lungs. When the power comes back we have to reprogram all the
machines again.”



Abu Obada is also confronted with
material damages as a result of the power cuts; “When there is a power cut the heart
and blood pressure monitors switch off. The internal sensors inside our
machines are broken by the cuts which causes the alarms to go off unnecessarily
and then for them to fail to kick in when something is wrong with the patient.”



Patients too, feel the threat of the
electricity crisis: “Some of our patients are awake and are aware of the power
cuts when they occur. These patients can hear us in those moments and fear for
their own lives and those of the other patients,” says Abu Obada.