World Health Organisation warns of spread of infectious diseases in Gaza
November 2023 – As deaths and injuries in Gaza continue to rise due
to intensified hostilities, intense overcrowding and disrupted
health, water, and sanitation systems pose an added danger: the rapid
spread of infectious diseases. Some worrying trends are already
of fuel has led to the shutting down of desalination plants,
significantly increasing the risk of bacterial infections like
diarrhoea spreading as people consume contaminated water. Lack of
fuel has also disrupted all solid waste collection, creating an
environment conducive to the rapid and widespread proliferation of
insects, rodents that can carry and transit diseases.
situation is particularly concerning for almost 1.5 million displaced
people across Gaza, especially those living in severely overcrowded
shelters with poor access to hygiene facilities and safe water,
increasing risk of infectious diseases transmission. UNRWA, WHO, and
the Ministry of Health are scaling up a flexible disease surveillance
system in many of these shelters and health facilities. The current
disease trends are very concerning.
mid-October 2023, over 33,551 cases of diarrhoea have been reported.
Over half of these are among children under age five -- a significant
increase compared to an average of 2000 cases monthly in children
under five throughout 2021 and 2022. 8944 cases of scabies and lice,
1005 cases of chickenpox, 12635 cases of skin rash and 54,866 cases
of upper respiratory infections have also been reported.
routine vaccination activities, as well as lack of medicines for
treating communicable diseases, further increase the risk of
accelerated disease spread. This is compounded by incomplete coverage
of the disease surveillance system, including early disease detection
and response capacities. Limited internet connectivity and phone
system functioning further constrains our ability to detect potential
outbreaks early and respond effectively.
health facilities, damaged water and sanitation systems, and
dwindling cleaning supplies have made it almost impossible to
maintain basic infection prevention and control measures. These
developments substantially increase the risk of infections arising
from trauma, surgery, wound care and childbirth.
Immunosuppressed individuals, such as patients with cancer, are
especially at risk of complicating infections. Insufficient personal
protective equipment means that health care workers themselves can
acquire and transmit infections while providing care to their
patients. The management of medical waste at hospitals has been
severely disrupted, further increasing exposure to hazardous
materials and infection.
calls for urgent, accelerated access for humanitarian aid –
including fuel, water, food, and medical supplies – into and
throughout the Gaza Strip. All parties to the conflict must abide by
their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect
civilians and civilian infrastructure, including health care. WHO
calls for the unconditional release of all hostages and a
humanitarian ceasefire to prevent further death and suffering
of almost 1.5 million displaced people, nearly 725,000 are in 149
UNRWA facilities, 122,000 are sheltering in hospitals, churches, and
other public buildings, and about 131,134 in 94 non-UNRWA schools and
remainder in host families.
of people are also forced to seek safety and shelter in streets near
hospitals, UN offices and public shelters, putting pressure on
already overstretched facilities.
to the escalation of hostilities, respiratory diseases were the sixth
most common cause of death in the Gaza Strip. In 2022, almost 82,000
cases of COVID-19 were reported in the Gaza strip, resulting in over
people face food shortages, malnutrition, and impending colder
weather, they will be even more susceptible to contracting diseases.
This is especially concerning for the more than 50,000 pregnant
women and approximately 337,000 children under the age of five
currently in Gaza.