We have watched with horror and growing concern the escalating crisis in Israel and Gaza.
Under international law civilians must be protected and attacks on hospitals and other civilian infrastructure are prohibited. Yet there are repeated and ongoing violations, and the humanitarian situation is deteriorating so severely that the head of the UN relief agency UNRWA has described it as being on the “edge of an abyss” and warned that “the world is now losing its humanity”.
Hamas terrorists indiscriminately targeted civilians, including women, children and the vulnerable and carried out attacks on healthcare facilities in Israel on October 7 2023 and the days following, killing 1,400 people. Now in Gaza, there is a major humanitarian crisis unfolding as bombardment continues. As of 23 October 2023, the BBC estimates (from Gaza’s Health Ministry) more than 5,000 Palestinians have been killed, as many as two thirds of them children; more than 9,700 have been wounded and more than one million people displaced inside Gaza. Of the 222 Israeli hostages currently being held in Gaza almost one quarter are children under 18 years of age or the elderly. The majority of those killed on both sides have been civilians.
As always, those who suffer most will be children, pregnant women and the sick and elderly. Maternal and infant mortality was already high in Gaza and will become significantly worse as the conflict continues and water, food and medicines run out. The UNFPA estimates that there are currently more than 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza of whom more than 5,000 are due to give birth in the next month. There is nowhere for them to go and slim likelihood of receiving life-saving treatment if complications arise, since hospitals are overwhelmed by the injured and dying. Many will therefore suffer premature deliveries and both babies and mothers will die from life-threatening but treatable conditions including post-partum haemorrhage, eclampsia, sepsis and obstructed labour.
The healthcare system in Gaza is on the brink of total collapse. Essential medical supplies remain in very short supply. We welcome the opening of the border at Rafah and join the United Nations in calling to keep this crossing open as a meaningful, unimpeded humanitarian corridor to secure necessary food, water and essential medical supplies.
We also join the UN in calling for the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure on both sides of the conflict, including hospitals; to ensure the respect and protection of health and survival at all times and ensure that the injured have immediate and unhindered access to healthcare. Most urgently, we call for a cessation of hostilities on both sides.
We encourage MARCH members, LSHTM staff and all who are reading this statement to support the humanitarian response by donating, if possible, to one of the Disasters Emergency Committee charities: Monitoring | Disasters Emergency Committee (dec.org.uk)
MARCH Steering Committee
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