Since 7 October, thousands of civilians on both sides have been killed in the brutal conflict between Hamas and Israeli forces. The residents of Gaza – a thin strip of land squeezed between the Mediterranean on one side and fenced borders with Egypt and Israel to its south and east – are experiencing a humanitarian catastrophe.
Even before the surge in violence, conditions in Gaza were already dire following years of blockade and restrictions which hampered its economy and infrastructure. After 7 October, these conditions have severely deteriorated.
UK-Med is gravely concerned by the growing health needs of civilians and the long-term health impact this war will have on affected communities. Our Emergency Medical Team is on standby with the World Health Organization (WHO) to deliver lifesaving healthcare, but we can only do so if we have both humanitarian access and the funding to respond.
What has been happening in Israel and Gaza since 7 October?
On 7 October, Hamas launched an attack on southern Israel, killing around 1,200 people and taking more than 200 hostages. In response, Israel has been carrying out strikes on Gaza that have killed more than 11,000 people and has now launched a ground offensive into the besieged territory, having also cut access to electricity, fuel, and food.
How bad is the humanitarian situation in Gaza?
The humanitarian situation is deteriorating rapidly, for both civilians in Gaza and the hostages who are being held captive there. A trickle of aid has entered Gaza through the Rafah Border Crossing with Egypt, but it is not enough to meet the overwhelming daily and humanitarian needs.
15 of Gaza’s 35 hospitals are no longer functional. There are severe shortages of power, supplies, and medicine, such that surgical procedures – including amputation – are performed without anaesthesia. Hospital generators are on the brink of shutting down due to lack of fuel, putting thousands more lives at risk. Hospitals, ambulances, and health workers have come under attack as they struggle to treat the injured and dying.
The impact of displacement on public health is also a grave concern; around 70% of Gaza’s population have been forcibly displaced. The trauma of conflict and displacement will have lasting impacts on their physical and mental health. Overcrowded conditions in schools, hospitals, and other buildings that serve as shelters put people at increased risk from infectious diseases, compounded by the lack of clean water and restricted access to hygiene facilities.
We know from working in other countries impacted by war that communities need many years to recover from such severe devastation. Even if the fighting stops, humanitarian needs will persist and there will be a huge demand for health NGOs like UK-Med to provide health care in the aftermath.
What are UK-Med’s key concerns?
As a neutral and impartial humanitarian health NGO, UK-Med‘s primary focus is on responding to the health needs of individuals and communities affected by the conflict. Their lives, their health, and their safety come first. UK-Med is deeply concerned by the scale of humanitarian needs and will seek to respond where it is safe to do so.
What is UK-Med doing in response to the conflict in Israel and Gaza?
UK-Med has submitted an Expression of Interest (an offer of help) to the World Health Organization (WHO) to provide health care, in whatever capacity is deemed most appropriate and if requested by relevant authorities. Any response, however, will also be dependent on humanitarian access, security and available funding.
We are one of 20 Emergency Medical Teams (EMTs) on standby to respond. We have a range of WHO-verified capabilities that we could use in a response, ranging from a fully operational field hospital to mobile clinics, to embedded rehabilitation and surgical teams.
Any potential response would be tailored to the health needs of those on the ground, using whichever capability is best suited for the situation, while ensuring it aligns with the work of other humanitarian agencies and the health authority that requested assistance.
There will inevitably be long-term health needs for affected communities given the sheer scale of the conflict, and we are incorporating this into our planning.
Why can’t UK-Med gain access to deploy?
As an Emergency Medical Team, UK-Med deploys when a request for assistance is made by a host government or authority.
At this stage the Egyptian Government is not seeking external medical teams. Nor can we enter Gaza, where there is ongoing fighting and severely limited security and access for NGOs and international actors who were not operating there previously.
We do not know if, or when, we will gain access, but we are planning for all eventualities and increasing our preparedness for a possible response across all our internal departments.