The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday it was sending two surgical teams to Gaza and setting up a surgical unit in the enclave's main hospital to treat the overwhelming number of casualties from Israel’s response to Palestinian protests.
The decision follows weeks of violence after Israeli troops killed 115 Palestinians and wounded more than 13,000 people on the Gaza-Israel border during protests that began on March 30.
“Thousands of Gaza residents are confronting new, long-term medical needs that the healthcare system simply can’t handle,” said Robert Mardini, ICRC’s regional director of operations for the Near and Middle East.
“This infusion of medical expertise and materiel will expedite the long road to recovery and relieve a stressed and overburdened healthcare system.”
Warning that Gaza's health system was on "the brink of collapse", Mr Mardini said the ICRC would increase its assistance over a six-month period to reinforce medical facilities "which are clearly struggling to cope".
While he voiced hope the boost in aid would help, he cautioned that it was far from a permanent fix for Gaza which has sky-high unemployment, limited supplies of electricity and clean water, and a sanitation system unable to cope.
"The whole Gaza is a sinking ship," he said.
And while health workers are focused squarely on "saving lives and limbs", other health services, for instance during child birth or to respond to a heart attack, are suffering, he said.
More than 3,600 people were wounded by live ammunition, some multiple times, for an estimated total of nearly 5,400 limb injuries. The agency’s main priority will be to treat those with gunshot wounds.
At least 32 people have already undergone an amputation, but the ICRC expects this number to grow.
"In the aftermath of the violence, the healthcare system in Gaza is particularly weakened. This is worsened by chronic shortages of medicine, medical equipment and electricity," ICRC spokeswoman Jessica Moussan El Zarif told The National.
The agency said that around 1,350 people with complex cases will need three to five operations each, a total of more than 4,000 surgeries, half of which will be carried out by the ICRC teams.
“The ICRC is alarmed about the human toll of the ongoing violence, in particular the loss of life and serious injuries,” Ms El Zarif said.
The ICRC expects that about 400 people might suffer temporary or permanent disability, she said.
The ICRC initiative will include opening a 50-bed surgical unit as part of a $5.3 million (Dh19.5) budget extension for Gaza.
"The ICRC surgical teams and medical experts will be based in a wing of Al Shifa Hospital, the largest hospital in Gaza. Other hospitals in Gaza and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society will also benefit from the assistance," the agency said.
The 11-member surgical team will consist of two orthopaedists, a specialised surgeon, two anaesthetists and four nurses, Ms El Zarif said.
“They will work in close collaboration with Shifa medical personnel and provide a comprehensive surgical and medical care. The ICRC will also equip the unit and ensure provision of basic services and medical supplies,” she said.
The ICRC will run the project until December, and is expected to carry out 2,000 surgical procedures.
“We estimate that between 600 and 700 patients will benefit from this project. And the ICRC will continue to train local medical personnel,” Ms El Zarif said.
Calm returned to the Gaza Strip on Wednesday after the worst military flare-up since a 2014 war raised fears of yet another full-blown conflict in the beleaguered Palestinian enclave.
At the UN, envoy for the Middle East Nikolay Mladenov warned the Security Council that the escalation showed "how close to the brink of war we are every day".