WHO condemns 'abrupt halt' to medical evacuations from Gaza

Thousands now need to evacuate after suffering severe trauma injuries in the war


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Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Published: Tue 28 May 2024, 5:57 PM

Desperately needed medical evacuations from Gaza — already very limited — came to a full stop when Israel launched its military offensive on Rafah three weeks ago, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday.

The United Nations health agency has long been pleading for Israeli permission to evacuate more critically ill and severely wounded people from Gaza.

Thousands of Gazans are estimated to require urgent medical evacuation but few have been able to leave the besieged Palestinian territory since war erupted there nearly eight months ago.

WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said that since Israel launched its military offensive in the densely crowded southern city of Rafah in early May, "there's been an abrupt halt to all medical evacuations".

She warned that the cut-off obviously meant more people will die waiting for treatment.

Before the war in the Gaza Strip erupted after Hamas's October 7 attacks, around 50 to 100 people left the enclave every day with medical referrals for complex treatments that were not available in the Palestinian territory, including for cancer.

"Those people didn't go away simply because conflict started, so they all still need a referral," Harris told reporters in Geneva.

And since services in Gaza have been disastrously disrupted by the conflict, far more people need to leave to get services they used to access inside the strip, like chemotherapy or dialysis, she said.

In addition, thousands now need to evacuate after suffering severe trauma injuries in the war.

WHO estimates that there are now typically at any given time "around 10,000 people who need to be evacuated... to receive the much-needed medical treatment elsewhere", Harris said.

They include more than 6,000 trauma-related patients and at least 2,000 patients with serious chronic conditions, like cancer, she said.

Since the complete halt to medical evacuations from Gaza on May 8, an additional 1,000 critically ill and wounded patients have been added to that list, Harris said.

Before the cut-off, WHO had received approval from Israel for 5,800 medical evacuations — around just half of the number it had requested since the war began.

Of those 5,800, only 4,900 patients had actually been able to leave, Harris said.

The Gaza war began after Hamas fighters attacked southern Israel on October 7, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Palestinian militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the Israeli army says are dead.

Israel's relentless military retaliation has killed at least 36,096 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.


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