A recently released report by the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that between March 30, 2018, and March 30, 2019, 277 Palestinians, including 52 children, were killed and 28,014 others injured by Israeli security forces along the Gaza-Israel border during the ongoing Great March of Return protests.
The report, released on May 29, was compiled by the WHO in partnership with 20 other humanitarian and medical agencies, including the Medical Aid for Palestinians – UK, the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund, the Palestine Red Crescent Society and the Palestinian Medical Relief Society.
Out of the 28,014 injured, the report found that 25% (6,872) were injured by gunshot wounds, 87% of whom received injuries to the limbs. 92% (25,720) of them were male, 8% (2,294) were female, and 22% (6,151) were children. Gunshot wounds, which are the biggest cause of death in Gaza, were also responsible for the deaths of 210 Palestinians. More than 75% of these deaths were caused by bullets to the chest as well as to the head and neck.
The report also found that many of those who survived gunshot injuries were left facing excessive damage to the bone, irreversible damage to neurovascular structures and extensive soft tissue damage. The WHO calculated that 1,209 to 1,746 patients in Gaza require some form of specialized tertiary treatment. If not properly addressed, the number of amputations might increase substantially in 2019.
During the period of the study, 172 people have been rendered permanently disabled as a result of their injuries. This number also includes 36 children. Amputation is the biggest cause of permanent disability, with 121 out of 172 permanently disabled being the result of that.
Apart from the lethal gunshot injuries, tear gas canisters used by Israeli forces on protesting Palestinians caused the majority of the injuries. 10,768 (51%) of all injuries were attributed to tear gas canisters and 1,775 (8%) were fragments from fired bullets or other metal or rubber projectiles.
The report noted that innovative healthcare solutions and practices used by the Palestinian Ministry of Health and other medical NGOs have saved many lives and reduced the burden of the trauma caseload by 41%. Estimates suggest that around 435 to 1,227 people were saved by the upgraded medical services, especially in the context of emergency trauma services.
There is serious concern raised at the fact that Gaza suffers from a constant shortage of medicines, disposable medical items and other medical supplies, such as equipment and machines. The Ministry of Health reports said that the data from the monthly central drug store showed that the percentage of zero stock medicines (less than a one month supply) was between 45% to 47% in January and February 2018. Following the initial protests in April 2018, 50% of medicines reached zero stock. The health sector in Gaza is also adversely affected by the very erratic and low electricity supply, which averaged just 7 hours a day in 2018. As a result, hospitals and clinics have to depend on fuel for emergency generators.
The report concluded by saying that sound investment in the health sector both nationally and locally will also end up improving the emergency and trauma services in the Gaza strip. Gerald Rockenschaub, head of WHO’s office for the occupied Palestinian territory, said, “Trauma interventions in Gaza are not only a response to the emergency but also a longer-term investment in building the capacity of the health system to address the critical service gaps that have persisted for years.”