'My life depends on dialysis' Gaza's dialysis patients left fighting for their lives

An estimated 1,000 patients in Gaza with renal failure are in urgent need of lifesaving dialysis and treatment

Mohammed Abou Safar, 33, said a shortage in filters and tubes meant he was not receiving the treatment he needed. Photo: Madelene Shaqleyeh
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Palestinians with renal failure in Gaza are struggling with the severe shortage of life-saving medicine and equipment, caused by Israeli bombardment which has hampered the health system in the besieged enclave.

Children as young as 12 are at risk of dying or falling into a coma, doctors and patients have told The National.

In Deir El Balah’s main hospital in central Gaza – Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital – doctors warn there is only a week’s worth of essential supplies for dialysis machines, which are operating at maximum capacity.

“We are running low on filters and tubes which must be changed for each patient. We have enough for one more week, after that, we will contact the Ministry of Health to provide more filters and other needs for the patients,” Dr Mohamed Naqla, a nephrotic specialist in the dialysis unit told The National.

Mohammed Abou Safar, 33, a resident of Deir El Balah has been a dialysis patient for seven years at Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Hospital. He says that shortages of filters and tubes meant that he was not able to receive the needed treatment.

“It is exhausting for me. There aren't enough filters, or tubes for the dialysis machine. This has caused complications for me, weakness in my legs, I cannot walk, and I have constant severe headaches,” he said.

With only 20 dialysis machines available for adults and one for children, the hospital is only able to allocate two hours of dialysis for each patient a day.

Similar to Mr Safar, Mrs Shifa Abou Rabih, 53, has been a dialysis patient for two years. She was displaced from the north of Gaza and is now receiving treatment at Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Hospital.

She had been waiting for half an hour to receive treatment and expects to be waiting for another 45 minutes.

“I have faced complications because I am unable to get regular dialysis. I used to get four hours of dialysis a week, now it is down to two hours. I am tired,” she said.

On Sunday, the World Health Organisation warned about hospitals in the strip, quickly going out of service.

Last month the UN body called for urgent action and humanitarian aid to support patients with chronic diseases.

It is estimated that more than 1,000 people need life-saving kidney dialysis, with more than 2,000 patients undergoing cancer treatment. About 45,000 have cardiovascular diseases, and more than 60,000 suffer from diabetes.

“We used to have 150 patients, who are residents of Deir El Balah. After October 7 and the ground invasion, the number of patients who were displaced from the north has substantially increased to 450 patients in Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital. We also have between 10-15 children receiving dialysis,” Dr Naqla said.

Treatment disruption

Last week, the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza called on international organisations to provide medical aid, including essential medicine, supplies, and fuel, saying that hospitals in the south have exceeded capacity and are unable to respond to the high number of incoming cases.

My health is getting worse and I have faced a number of complications. When I sleep I feel there is a weight on my chest, I cannot breathe easily

“My health is getting worse and I have faced a number of complications. When I sleep I feel there is a weight on my chest, I cannot breathe easily. When this happens I come to the hospital for an emergency dialysis, sometimes at night or early morning,” Mrs Abou Rabih said.

According to UNRWA, almost 1.9 million people in Gaza, or about 85 per cent of the population, are internally displaced.

The Israeli army split Gaza’s regions. Medical complexes are struggling to get the necessary supplies from the south while patients do not have access to health care in other areas.

“It has greatly impacted our work because the Health Ministry’s warehouses are located in the south, which has decreased the supplies that we receive and that we request from the south,” Dr Naqla explained.

He added that before October 7, patients received three four-hour dialysis sessions a week. Now, they receive three two-hour sessions a week.

Getting around Gaza has become life-threatening as a result of Israeli snipers and tanks that have taken over large swathes of the north and south.

“All patients who were displaced from the north arrived here in a very difficult state. Some patients have not had dialysis for 20 days and went into a coma due to the accumulation of toxins in their blood,” he said, and some face death if proper treatment is stalled further.

“Some patients could not withstand the strain of the journey from the north and died. The deceased were mainly elderly,” he said.

Additionally, patients do not have access to essential medication, such as the glycoprotein hormone that stimulates red blood cell production, which is currently unavailable, according to Dr Naqla.

“Consequently, the patients need regular blood transfusions which is an additional burden on the hospital’s resources,” Dr Naqla added.

According to the UN's humanitarian agency OCHA, 11 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals remain partially operating and able to receive new patients.

Dialysis lifeline

Anssam, 12, was displaced from Jabaliya in northern Gaza to seek treatment in Deir El Balah. She had gone 15 days without dialysis and had to leave with her mother and sister to central Gaza for life-saving treatment.

“I hope for this war to end and for us to go back to the way we were, happy and playing, and to go back to doing dialysis three times a week” Ansaam told The National.

“Now, without filters, I cannot have dialysis and so I will die. My life depends on dialysis,” she said.

Anssam’s sister Doaa, 16, who accompanied her during her treatment, said they have been staying in a tent in the hospital’s courtyard for a month, with three other families.

“Our situation is very tragic. We have been made displaced and my sister is also a patient. There is a shortage of food that is important nutrition for her, she also needs protein. Her protein injections are no longer available. She used to get three injections a week and now she is down to one,” Doaa said of her sister.

This article is published in collaboration with Egab.

Updated: December 18, 2023, 4:30 AM