In Mid-November MSF started supporting the Shohada Health Centre, the biggest provider of primary health care in Khan Younis. The needs were huge. After just one week, we had already provided outpatient consultations for more than 600 people, half of them under the age of five. They had respiratory infections, skin diseases or diarrhea, all of which can cause severe complications, especially in young children. All are a direct consequence of their dire living conditions.
Women were rushed in, so dehydrated they had collapsed. Mothers begged for baby formula: with nothing to eat, their breast milk had stopped and their babies were hungry.
On December 1st, as the ‘pause’ ended, the neighborhood where the health centre was located was ordered to evacuate. Our team was forced to leave and the health centre ceased to function.
One of the thousands of patients who lost their access to care that day was a five-year-old boy being treated by our psychologist. He had told her in a session that he wanted to die.
In Al Aqsa hospital, MSF’s mental health team held art sessions with children. Some drew their families, killed during bombings. They drew the legs and arms of their mothers on the ground, beside their bodies.
When they told me about this I thought not only about children, but also about the psychologists, holding this trauma whilst going through the same experiences themselves.
Our team members in Gaza have lost family members, homes, colleagues.
One colleague learned on social media that her sister had been killed. She came to work anyway, to forget, because there’s nothing else to do.
An attack on Al Awda Jabalia hospital killed two of our doctors, Dr Mahmoud Abu Nujaila, and Dr Ahmad Al Sahar.
The third member of their team wasn’t there that day – he had come to work with us in Al Aqsa hospital. Later, when two survivors of that same attack arrived in Al Aqsa, this doctor was the one who dressed their wounds.
Healthcare workers in Gaza are being depicted as heroes. But calling them heroes suggests that they can magically alleviate this unbearable suffering on their own. It suggests they don’t need support.
The day Dr Samir was injured when the building next door was bombed, his daughter saw him bleeding. She told him “doctors aren’t supposed to bleed.” They do though.
The illusion of humanitarian action
Foreign journalists often ask me how Gaza compares to other crises I have worked in. I say that in Gaza there is a humanitarian crisis, but no humanitarian response.
Israeli officials make claims about the number of trucks being allowed through Rafah daily, as if there is an acceptable ratio between the number of trucks and the number of people killed. But humanitarian aid is not about trucks, and the supplies being allowed in no way match the scale of the needs.
Marie-Aure Perreaut Revial has recently returned from Gaza, where she worked as the emergency coordinator for MSF. Here she bears witness to the experiences of the MSF staff and patients she met during her time there.