'All will die': Lives of Gaza's premature babies hang in the balance

Doctors say 130 infants face instant death if hospitals run out of electricity

Gaza's premature babies between life and death as hospitals shut down

Gaza's premature babies between life and death as hospitals shut down
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The lives of 130 premature babies hang in the balance as health workers in Gaza battle to keep hospitals functioning, doctors have told The National.

Across the blockaded enclave, children born early into the chaos of war have clung to life in incubators, which will stop working when hospitals run out of electricity.

“We have 130 premature (babies) on incubators. If we lose electricity, all will die,” Dr Medhat Abbas, director of Gaza's Health Ministry, told The National.

Children have borne the brunt of Israel's intense bombardment, comprising 40 per cent of more than 4,600 people killed, according to the Hamas-run ministry.

Many of the premature babies are being treated at Al Shifa, the strip's largest hospital in Gaza city, which is overwhelmed amid shortages of medicine and staff and a rising number of wounded.

Others are being treated at Al Aqsa hospital in central Gaza, Nasr Pediatric Hospital and the Emirati hospital, among others, Mr Abbas said.

In video footage sent to The National by the UK-based Medical Aid for Palestinians, the head of Al Shifa's neonatal unit watches an eight-day old orphaned baby boy as he lies in an incubator.

“The mum was transferred to the hospital while she was 32 weeks pregnant with him. She was in a very critical situation, taking her last breaths,” said Dr Nasser Bulbul.

The baby, now at Al Shifa hospital, was delivered via Caesarean section and is in a stable condition.

“His brain is still underdeveloped, but in general, he is stable. We don't know when this baby is healthy and ready to be discharged and who will take care of him,” Dr Bulbul said.

“All of his family members were killed, 11 died. He is the only survivor.”

Limited aid, including fuel, has entered Gaza through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, but is not enough to meet growing critical needs.

The UN's relief agency has said fuel reserves will run out within three days, and several hospitals are already out of service.

“Our hospitals desperately need every pill, drop of fuel, every human staff, every bed and every ambulance,” Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf Al Qudra said on Saturday.

Fuel supply crisis

A doctor at Al Aqsa said the facility hasn't received any supplies in the two weeks since the war began.

“The fuel for the generator is enough for one or two days. What will happen then? What will happen to the wounded?” he told The National.

“This hospital is the only one in the middle area and it is filled to more than capacity because all patients, all the injured from the north and the middle regions come here.”

More than 20 babies are incubated at Al Shuhada Al Aqsa, spokesman Abed Al Haleem Mikdad told The National.

The ward will turn into a morgue without electricity and fuel, he said.

There are six neonatal intensive care units, according to the NGO, all of which are in desperate need of aid.

Many hospitals have been damaged in Israeli air strikes, including the Emirati Field Hospital and the church-run Al Ahli Arab hospital, where hundreds of people were killed on Thursday.

Israel cut off water, electricity and fuel to the Gaza Strip following the Hamas attack on southern Israel, in which militants killed more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians, on October 7.

“The world cannot simply look on as these babies are killed by the siege on Gaza,” said Medical Aid for Palestinians chief executive Melanie Ward.

“We call on world leaders to demand that Israel urgently allow fuel in to Gaza’s hospitals. A failure to act is to sentence these babies to death.”

Many women are delivering prematurely amid the stress and trauma of the war, doctors have told The National.

Nisma Hajjaj gave birth early after fleeing from Gaza city to Nusseirate.

Her baby is now in an incubator after his oxygen levels dropped.

“The situation here is not safe. There is shelling all the time and the shortage of fuel threatens the life of my baby,” she said.

“I feel so worried, and hope this war will end and we can go back to our life and our home.”

Israel's response to the brutal Hamas assault has been decried as “collective punishment” by the UN and rights groups, warning of waterborne diseases and malnutrition as food and water become scarce.

Palestinian doctors have since been forced to operate on patients without anaesthetic and tend to patients in hospital corridors and on floors as the casualties rise and aid languishes across the border in Egypt.

“The lives of the newborn babies are in danger, and we ask for an immediate solution,” paediatrician Dr Samr Al Buhasi told The National.

“We have a big number of newborn babies from the north, middle and south of the Gaza Strip on a daily basis. We have shortages of medicine and material. All of that leads to threats to the lives of newborn babies.”

Harrowing images and videos of dead and injured children have overtaken social media as the war intensifies.

On Sunday, local journalist Motaz Azaiza shared distressing footage of himself transporting two blood-covered babies to hospital.

In a video on Instagram, he can be seen comforting the infants as they cry.

More than 100 children were killed in Israeli air strikes in the previous 24 hours, Gaza's Health Ministry said on Sunday afternoon, as Israel followed through on its vow to intensify bombardment ahead of an expected ground invasion.

While the military has urged civilians to head south for protection, many have refused or returned north, saying there is no safe haven to be found anywhere in Gaza.

Additional reporting by Ramola Talwar Badam

Updated: October 23, 2023, 8:13 AM