In a passionate address to the United Nations General Assembly on November 17, 2023, at New York, the WHO Chief, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus voiced grave concerns about the escalating humanitarian crisis in Gaza, highlighting the devastating impact on both the health of the people and the crumbling healthcare infrastructure in the region.
Pointing out that the Gaza Strip is facing a dire health situation, the WHO Chief expressed deep concern for the health and well-being of both the hostages in Gaza and the general population. With limited updates on casualties, the evaluation of the health system's functionality becomes increasingly challenging.
Sharing his experience of meeting families of Israeli hostages being held in Gaza, Dr Tedros said, “I heard and felt their pain and heartache.”
“WHO continues to call for those hostages who are still alive to be released, without condition,” he added.
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However, he pointed out that the UN Health Agency is deeply concerned for the health and well-being of both hostages and the civilian population of Gaza. He further added, “We are deeply concerned for their health and well-being, just as we are concerned for the health and well-being of the people of Gaza, which is becoming more precarious every hour.”
Pointing out that Gaza's healthcare system is on the verge of collapse, with only 10 out of 36 hospitals still operational and a severe shortage of beds, health workers, medicines, and supplies, Dr. Tedros said, “So far this week, WHO has not received updates on the number of deaths or injuries in Gaza, which makes it harder for us to evaluate the functioning of the health system.”
“What is clear is that the health needs of the people of Gaza are growing all the time, and the health system is near collapse,” he added.
The WHO Chief outlined a grim reality, including premature deaths of infants, interrupted treatments for patients with cancer, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, along with critical shortages in mental health services and increasing cases of infections, saying, “Many health workers have been displaced, forced to flee with their families.”
“More and more casualties, and fewer and fewer beds, health workers, medicines, and supplies; premature babies dying as life-support systems shut down, Dr. Tedros said.
Pointing out that the interruption in treatment posed a grave risk to more than 2000 cancer patients, 1000 with kidney disease, 50,000 with cardiovascular disease, and 60,000 with diabetes, he added, “Up to 200 women giving birth every day in the worst imaginable conditions (and) an estimated 20,000 people and counting in need of specialised mental health services.”
Criticising the insufficient amount of aid allowed into Gaza and emphasising that even the limited aid cannot be distributed without fuel, a critical component in short supply, the WHO Chief described the amount of aid allowed into Gaza as pitiful.
“And even the little aid we can get into Gaza cannot be distributed without fuel,” Dr. Tedros said.
Pointing out that the small amount of fuel that entered Gaza this week has already run out, he added, “It is as simple as that: no fuel, no aid.”
In his 28 minute address, the WHO made urgent calls for increased support, including medicines, medical equipment, clean water, food, power, and protection for healthcare workers.
Welcoming the Security Council's resolution for humanitarian pauses and corridors, the WHO Chief stressed the need for a ceasefire and immediate implementation.
Pointing out that the crisis in Gaza was framed as an acid test for the United Nations and its Member States, the WHO Chief urged them to act now to prevent further loss of life and damage to healthcare facilities.
He further urged Member States to ensure unfettered access to humanitarian aid, called on Hamas to release hostages, and appealed to Israel to restore essential supplies. He called upon the international community to abide by obligations under international humanitarian law, stop attacks on healthcare, and work towards ending the conflict in Gaza.