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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2007 November 3; 335(7626): 907.
PMCID: PMC2048883

UN official warns of deteriorating health situation in Gaza Strip

The United Nations' top humanitarian official has warned that the health situation has seriously deteriorated in the Gaza Strip and called on the Israeli government not to restrict the exit of Palestinian emergency patients seeking care outside the territory.

John Holmes, the UN emergency relief coordinator, voiced “great concern” about the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank over the increasing restrictions on commercial and humanitarian activity.

The “squeeze is tightening all the time,” he said and emphasised that the number of truck loads of commercial and humanitarian supplies has declined from 3190 in July to 1508 in September and that the downward trend was continuing.

“On the medical side, it's clear difficulties are increasing there,” Mr Holmes told reporters, and said that some 13% of essential drugs were already out of stock in Gaza.

The World Health Organization said that the agency, along with the UN Population Fund, have donated 11 pallets of drugs to Gaza.

Mr Holmes said that the number of children under 3 in Gaza who have been diagnosed with diarrhoea related diseases “has increased by 20% this year compared with last year.” He said this was connected to nutrition, increasing poverty, and increasingly poor sanitation because of poor maintenance of the basic infrastructure there in the past few months.

According to UN officials and local advocacy groups, Gaza's medical system is unable to offer many services, including radiotherapy; cancer treatment; and heart surgery, especially for children.

The number of emergency patients allowed by Israel to leave the Gaza Strip for medical treatment, Mr Holmes said, “was 40 per day in July,” but he added that “it was less than five per day in September.”

Mr Holmes, a former British ambassador and diplomatic adviser to the former UK prime minister, Tony Blair, told reporters there were also “constant problems of blockages” of patients who are trying to leave Gaza for urgent care.

Mr Holmes, who is also UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, appealed to Israel to relax the restrictions. Israeli authorities recently restricted so called “security prohibitions” on seven patients so they could leave Gaza for lifesaving care.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, condemned the indiscriminate firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel, but also stated that Israel has an obligation to protect the population without employing disproportionate means.

“International law prohibits reprisals and collective punishment,” Mrs Arbour said.

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