Nasser Hospital evacuated amid power, water and food shortages

Medics moved 32 patients as health officials say Israeli forces have detained 70 members of staff and volunteers

Kidney patients wait for dialysis treatment at Al Najjar Hospital in Rafah, after being relocated from Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis by WHO teams. EPA
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Medics moved 32 patients from the besieged Nasser Hospital in Gaza's southern city of Khan Younis, on Sunday and Monday, after the health ministry said the building had gone out of service because of a blackout and shortages of food and water.

The World Health Organisation said it carried out two missions where weak and frail patients were transferred amid “active conflict” near the convoy.

Damaged roads made the operation more difficult, hindering ambulance movement and “placing the health of patients at further risk”.

The transferred patients include three suffering from paralysis – two of them with tracheostomies – and several others with external fixators – pins attached to broken bones – for “severe orthopaedic injuries”.

Two of those paralysed required manual ventilation due to the absence of portable ventilators.

Conditions inside the hospital were dire, the WHO said. The centre had no running water or electricity.

“Medical waste and garbage are creating a breeding ground for disease,” the WHO said.

The hospital's main building had been turned into a military barracks by Israeli troops who laid siege on the complex on February 17.

They detained 70 staff and volunteers including the hospital's director Dr Nahed Abu Taeema, the ministry said. Israel has denied this claim.

“There are still more than 180 patients and 15 doctors and nurses inside Nasser,” the WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on social media platform X.

“The hospital is still experiencing an acute shortage of food, basic medical supplies, and oxygen,” he said, urging Israel to allow safe and sustained access to Nasser Hospital to continue life-saving efforts. “There is no tap water and no electricity, except a backup generator maintaining some life-saving machines.”

The WHO had previously said it was denied entry to the hospital.

A video published by Dr Tedros showed WHO teams inside the hospital and transferring patients on to stretchers.

Eight of the patients taken outside could not walk, WHO trauma surgeon Dr Athanasios Gargavanis said.

Two of them need the assistance of ventilators.

The video showed departments of the hospital empty and abandoned, confirming that the facility is not operational.

The roads around the hospital were muddied and buildings around it were destroyed.

The WHO said critical patients were referred to five hospitals in south Gaza, including the European Gaza Hospital, International Medical Corps, UAE and Indonesia field hospitals and Al Aqsa hospital.

It came as Doctors Without Borders (MSF) called for the immediate protection and staff evacuations from the hospital.

"MSF is outraged that medical staff and patients are still trapped in there. After all these days, some 130 patients and at least 15 healthcare workers are still in the hospital with no electricity, no running water, no food or limited food according to the United Nations," MSF's director Avril Benoit said.

Last week the group learnt that a sixth member of its staff was killed by Israeli bombardment. She was taking shelter with her family inside the hospital when the attack took place last week, Ms Benoit said.

"Many civilians were afraid to leave the hospital because shots had been fired directly at them at the building at people trying to leave the hospital's compound," she said.

The situation inside the hospital is another example of the way health centres are being dismantled one by one, Guillemette Thomas, MSF medical co-ordinator for Palestine, said.

“Even though they were initially told they could stay inside the facility, medical staff and patients were put in danger in a place where they should have been protected. We are outraged that once again they have had to pay a heavy price,” she said.

The breakdown in services at Nasser Hospital has had a trickle-down effect on the other facilities.

Dr Soad Al Sheikh Ali, a doctor at the Internal Medicine department at the European Hospital said they are unable to keep up with the surge in casualties and patients, including those coming from Nasser Hospital.

“There are wounded individuals we receive, but we can't treat them because the resources in Nasser Hospital are better than ours,” she said.

Dr Ali sounded the alarm on a potential Israeli ground invasion of Rafah where 1.4 million people are seeking refuge. She said hospitals like hers are not going to be able to cope with this “catastrophe” which often makes her feel helpless as a medical professional.

“Sometimes, I feel paralysed when I can't provide the patients with the medicine they need because we don't have it,” she told The National.

With space running out at the European Hospital, civilians are having to resort to the facility's corridors and floors of rooms to find a place to sleep.

Mohammed Abu Ghalwa is one of the patients at the facility, suffering from injuries to his chest.

But his wounds are too complex to treat. “The situation here is so difficult. There are no medications – not only for the wounded – but for simple things like the flu,” he said.

The war in Gaza has claimed more than 29,000 lives, mostly women and children, the Health Ministry said.

On Monday, Palestinian Health Minister Dr Mai Al Kaila estimated that the remains of about 8,000 people are still buried beneath the rubble.

Updated: February 20, 2024, 4:37 PM