Gaza gets vital medical aid as hospitals struggle with rising infections


Abdelnaser Soboh, Emergency Health Lead in the World Health Organization's Gaza sub-office, stands next to boxes containing ventilators delivered by the World Health Organization (WHO) and donated by Kuwait, in Gaza City November 29, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

GAZA (Reuters) - The World Health Organization delivered 15 ventilators to Gaza hospitals on Sunday amid a spike in COVID-19 infections that has tested the Palestinian territory's under-developed health system.

The donation of the intensive care devices, funded by Kuwait, came a week after local and international public health advisers said hospitals in the enclave could soon become overwhelmed.

"These devices will help medical teams provide better service to patients, but it is not enough," said Abdullatif Alhaj of Gaza's health ministry.

Alhaj said hospitals had suffered acute shortages in oxygen essential in the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

Gaza has logged nearly 20,000 coronavirus cases and 97 deaths, mostly since August, amid concern of a wider outbreak in the densely populated enclave of 2 million people, many of whom live in poverty.

The Gaza Health Ministry said 342 COVID-19 patients, of whom 108 are in critical condition, are being treated in the territory's hospitals, which have been able to expand their intensive care units to 150 beds over the past week.

It said more than half of the territory's 150 ventilators are in use.

"The health system right now can hold on for a few weeks after the expansion of beds," said Abdelnaser Soboh, emergency health lead in the World Health Organization's Gaza sub-office.

Soboh said Gaza is also experiencing severe shortages of medications and disposable equipment needed to treat COVID-19 patients.

Palestinians in Hamas Islamist-run Gaza say 13 years of economic sanctions by Israel and its border blockade have crippled their economy and undermined the development of medical facilities, weakening their ability to tackle a pandemic.

Israel, which cites security concerns for the border restrictions it imposes along with neighbouring Egypt, says it has not limited the transfer of medical supplies to Gaza to fight the pandemic.

(Writing by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Hugh Lawson)

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