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Gaza's health system 'on its knees,' WHO chief warns

By AFP - Nov 12,2023 - Last updated at Nov 12,2023

People carry away an injured woman following Israeli bombing on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on Saturday (AFP photo)

UNITED NATIONS, United States — The health care system in the Gaza Strip is "on its knees," the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned on Friday, noting that half of the territory's 36 hospitals are no longer functioning.

Speaking to the Security Council, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the situation on the ground as desperate: "Hospital corridors crammed with the injured, the sick, the dying; morgues overflowing; surgery without anesthesia; tens of thousands of displaced people sheltering at hospitals."

"The health system is on its knees, and yet somehow is continuing to deliver lifesaving care," he said.

Tedros said there had been more than 250 attacks on health care, such as strikes on hospitals, clinics, ambulances and patients, in Gaza and the West Bank, and 25 such attacks in Israel in the conflict triggered by Hamas' shock October 7 assault.

"The best way to support those health workers and the people they serve is by giving them the tools they need to deliver that care, medicines, medical equipment and fuel for hospital generators," he said, calling for an increase in aid trickling in through the Rafah crossing with Egypt and repeating the UN's call for a ceasefire.

"I understand what the children of Gaza must be going through, because as a child, I went through the same thing," said the WHO chief, who is from Ethiopia's Tigray region.

"The sound of gunfire and shells whistling through the air; the smell of smoke after they struck; tracer bullets in the night sky; the fear; the pain; the loss, these things have stayed with me throughout my life."

The head of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, Marwan Jilani, addressed the Security Council by video, calling on members to "do all you can to spare further deaths and sufferings." The council is divided on the war and has failed to issue a resolution on it.

He highlighted the dire situation at the Al Quds hospital in Gaza City, which the Red Crescent said was fired on Friday by Israeli snipers.

“Our utmost concern is the direct threat to the lives of all those wounded and sick, together with tens of thousands of civilians, including thousands of children,” Jilani said.

“They are looking at you, imploring you to act to stop another possible massacre unfolding.”

The Security Council started its meeting with a minute of silence to honor the victims of the Hamas assault, the civilians killed in Israel’s retaliatory strikes on Gaza, as well as the journalists and UN personnel who have died in the war.

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