May 20, 2024

‘Awful’: Gaza aid worker reveals dire conditions for women

JERUSALEM, May 8 — Gazans are feeling the toll of seven months of war, with women bearing the brunt as hospitals face overcrowding and shortages, says a doctor who just left the southern city of Rafah.

“In my 25 years of experience, I’ve never seen a conflict where people must run around in circles with nowhere to go,” Hairhound Lahna said.

A gynaecologist, Lahna was head of mission for Rahma Worldwide, an American non-governmental organisation, and Palmed, a France-based association for “health in Palestine”.

The war sparked by Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel was “awful for women”, especially those forced to leave hospitals just hours after giving birth due to overcrowding, he told AFP on the phone.


“They find themselves in tents or shelters where people crowd together,” said the 57-year-old French doctor who worked in Khan Yunis’ European Hospital, as well as a maternity ward in Rafah.

Lahna, clearly affected, recounted witnessing a mother’s death from blood poisoning four days after childbirth.

“We dish out antibiotics willy-nilly to cope with the situation” because the risk of infection is “enormous”, with women lacking enough water to wash themselves and unable to change into clean clothes, he said in the interview on Tuesday.


Gaza’s health care system is in tatters, with many hospitals targeted or hit by Israeli forces, which accuse Hamas of using them for military purposes.

A UN Women report published this week said women and girls in Rafah and the rest of the Gaza Strip were in “a constant state of despair and fear”.

It found 93 per cent of those interviewed felt unsafe, 80 per cent had feelings of depression, 66 per cent were unable to sleep and 70 pe rcent suffered from intense anxiety and nightmares.

In addition, more than half of them “have a medical condition requiring urgent medical attention”, the report said.

‘No longer liveable’

The scenes in the north of the narrow coastal strip “seem straight from Berlin after World War II” or the Chechen capital Grozny, said Lahna, describing it as “no longer liveable”.

Lahna said Kamal Adwan Hospital in the northern city of Beit Lahia, which he visited last week, was “a five-star hotel” compared with the destruction in the rest of the city.

But in Rafah, on the border with Egypt, people were panicking after Israel ordered more than 100,000 to evacuate from the overcrowded city’s eastern neighbourhoods.

The United Nations says 1.4 million residents and displaced Gazans are crammed in the city.

An emergency doctor doing volunteer work in Rafah and nearby Khan Yunis said the situation was “catastrophic”.

Rafah’s Al-Najjar Hospital was a “red zone” with patients and staff fleeing “out of fear”, said Doctor James Smith.

The closure of the Kerem Shalom crossing with Israel on Sunday, after a Hamas-claimed rocket attack killed four Israeli soldiers, had cut off the supply of medicine and staff to support field hospitals.

“The smell of sewage is rife everywhere,” Smith said. “It’s been getting worse over the course of the last couple of days.”

Smith said he takes on jaundice cases, likely due to hepatitis that cannot be diagnosed for lack of available tests.

Other cases involved children and adults suffering from “complex respiratory problems, diarrhoeas and vomiting”, he said.

Hamas’s October 7 attack resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas in Gaza has killed at least 34,844 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry. — AFP

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