Dr. Ghada Al Jadba, UNRWA Chief Field Health Programme, Gaza. Address to the World Health Assembly 2024

10 June 2024

Geneva Switzerland


It’s been more than seven months of catastrophe in Gaza.

Since 7 October, I’ve always had the feeling that this was all just a terrible nightmare, but gradually, I started to realize that this is not a nightmare. It is the worst reality ever.

For me, this is the fourth time to be a bystander in the same events. Every time, it was following a crisis in Gaza, the 2014 war, the Great March of Return, the 2021 war.

Each time, there was huge destruction and huge loss. And UNRWA continued to rebuild and restore life in Gaza.

In 2021 war, I personally experienced a threat to my life, my son and I came under aggressive bombardment. Thank God, we were saved that time.  The next morning, I went out to work and I saw huge, shocking destruction everywhere.

At the time, I mentioned that what I had experienced couldn’t be described, it could only be felt.

But what we are experiencing now in Gaza even can’t be felt.

As humans, we can’t feel or understand all of what is happening to us in Gaza. 

Simply because it is beyond humanity.

Apart from politics and international rules and interventions, it is beyond humanity in every aspect.

The ongoing war has posed unprecedented obstacles for UNRWA health services. The continuing escalation of hostilities in Gaza has made the continuation of our services extremely difficult. As daily life itself becomes untenable.

We need miracles to continue working, and we have done just that.

Before 7 October, UNRWA ran 22 health centres (HCs) serving 1.3 million Palestine Refugees and providing comprehensive primary health care services including:

Maternal health care services,

Preconception care,

Antenatal,

Postnatal,

Family planning,

Child health care services,

Infant care,

Vaccinations,

Curative services,

Treatment for non-communicable diseases,

Mental health and psychosocial support,

School health services,

Protection against gender-based violence, and 

    Hospitalization support services,

 

UNRWA was partnered with ten hospitals to provide secondary health care services,

 

Since 7 October, we repeatedly continued to take losses on all health programme assets and the components of any health care system, [including] loss of access to health facilities with repeated orders of evacuation and massive displacement of whole areas and cities in Gaza.

The first huge loss was on 13 October when there was the order to evacuate from the whole of Gaza City and the north region to the south region.

We lost more than half of our health centres.

We were left with only eight functional HCs.  And even we struggled to keep them operated. On one time we had only four functional HCs. Now we have four HCs from the 22 HCs before the war and three newly established temporary HCs.

Most of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) went to UNRWA schools, that UNRWA designated as shelters. People lost everything and they need everything. UNRWA provided them with everything, including health services, all with huge difficulty given the limited supplies and goods entering Gaza.

There are registered 1.7 million IDPs.

We established medical points at all UNRWA shelters to provide IDPs with the essential health services.

In the HCs and shelters we provided the minimum primary health care packages, as discussed and agreed with EMRO, WHO Country Office and the Ministry of Health.  We almost resumed all the previously provided health services before war.

Also, we established medical points at Mawasi area (coastal region in the west of the southern Gaza Strip) to serve the IDPs there, in addition to the three newly established HCs there. The daily number of medical consultations in HCs and shelters is between 20,000-25,000, which is more than 50 per cent of total consultations before the war.

The losses sustained by UNRWA are not only in the form of damage to our facilities, but we have also lost most of the medical supplies in our main storage facility in Gaza City.  It was an extremely difficult situation.

An extraordinary situation requires extraordinary solutions. The UNRWA Health Department provided supplies received from the Jordan field. The usual six-month procurement of medication was accelerated with local procurements from Jordan and Egypt and by changing delivery routes through the Rafah border crossing for the first time, supported by EMRO (WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region Office).

Vaccines were lost and there was coordination with UNICEF, supported by EMRO, which succeeded to deliver vaccines in January. UNRWA administered vaccinations to nearly all eligable children and those who missed their scheduled vaccines. Vaccinated more than 100,000 children.

Food insecurity started to affect more than 1.1 million people in Gaza, UNRWA with the support of UNICEF introduced assessment of malnutrition in the HCs and shelters to all children, done to 27,762 children. And we provide nutritional supplements to IDPs in the shelters with the support of UNICEF.

Another main loss and challenge is staffing. Our staff are part the misery in Gaza, they are part of the killing, displacements and lack of life’s necessities. Connectivity was extremely difficult. But we succeeded in connecting and redeploying them (around 70 to 80 per cent of the staff) and hiring more temporary staff.

Information and reporting systems were a crucial component in our work, and we lost our advanced electronic health systems. We were keen to establish other ways to register and report all health data.

Surveillance to infectious diseases with epidemic potential [was tracked] with close coordination and support from the WHO and MoH. Massive surges in some of them, like diarrhea and acute jaundice (68 times more and 452 times more than average).

WHO also supported the UNRWA Health Programme with Early Warning, Alert and Response Systems (EWARs) for the surveillance of infectious diseases. We successfully used them in shelters and their use has now expanded. EWARs are a good platform for input of all health data.

We invested in partner coordination with WHO, and we are proud of that. We were supported with a lot, also by MoH and other UN agencies. UNICEF provided huge support in nutritional aspects and vaccines supplies. UNFPA, PRCS and PMRS also.

In Gaza, the needs on the ground are huge, people have lost everything and need everything.

But the main loss was the loss of the feeling of humanity.

UNRWA provides and meets huge needs.

What really needed in Gaza?

Restore humanity,

More assistance,

Much more humanitarian relief to enter the Strip,

And most important is an immediate ceasefire.

UNRWA is the main humanitarian organization in Gaza providing large scale operations.

UNRWA is the witness of Palestinian Nakba 1948 up to the current Nakba.

UNRWA continued to assist Palestinians in Gaza in times of war and emergency.

UNRWA will continue to be the main hope for Palestine Refugees until a justice solution to their case.

We, at UNRWA, despite of the suffering, deep pain and exhaustion, continue to do everything and anything we can to provide services and aid.

To restore as much as we can of the lost humanity of Palestinians in Gaza and to dust off their souls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Background Information: 

UNRWA is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. The United Nations General Assembly established UNRWA in 1949 with a mandate to provide humanitarian assistance and protection to registered Palestine refugees in the Agency’s area of operations pending a just and lasting solution to their plight.

UNRWA operates in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, The Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. 

Tens of thousands of Palestine refugees who lost their homes and livelihoods due to the 1948 conflict continue to be displaced and in need of support, nearly 75 years on.

UNRWA helps Palestine Refugees achieve their full potential in human development through quality services it provides in education, health care, relief and social services, protection, camp infrastructure and improvement, microfinance, and emergency assistance. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions.

Your support is crucial to help us provide emergency aid 
to displaced families in Gaza

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