PMRS activities during the current crisis
PMRS employs 70 medical professionals in Gaza, and we are joined in our efforts by hundreds of volunteers. Prior to the current crisis, PMRS's main services were: Primary health care, through permanent health centres and mobile clinics, chronic diseases, psychosocial health, and community-based rehabilitation. Since the Israeli attacks started from the 27th of December our staff have mainly been focusing on primary health care and emergency response, and have tried, dependent on the situation, to also provide comprehensive and rehabilitation care, including physical, medical, psychological and social care.
During the 3-hour 'humanitarian lulls', injured Gazans sought help in the 4 PMRS clinics located in Jabalia (Jabalia Haider Abd Alshafi clinic), Beit Lahia (Umm Alnaser clinic), Beit Hanun (Ezbet Beit Hanun clinic), and Khan Younis (Abu T'Ama clinic). The PMRS staff tried, to their best ability, to open the clinics in order to perform check-ups on patients and distribute medicines especially to those suffering from chronic diseases. The Jabalia clinic has been functioning as an emergency clinic open for 24 hours a day. The staff have worked in two shifts (morning shift 8:00-14:00 and afternoon shift 14:00-20:00) in order to treat as many people as possible, including the displaced people who that were sheltering in UNRWA schools. The staff have also tried to treat as many patients as possible in their own communities, and at the PMRS Chronic Disease, and Loan centers in Gaza City, and have distributed assistive devices, mainly wheel chairs and first aid kits, to hospitals and injured people. The work of the staff was made incredibly difficult not only because of the very high number of casualties and fatalities, but also due to the dangers posed by the continuous strikes which prevented the Gazans from leaving their homes or shelters. PMRS volunteers have also been helping other organizations to distribute aid; be it water, blankets, food or medicines. Furthermore, 3 PMRS doctors are currently working in the main hospital in Shifa.
On Wednesday 7 January, we sent a letter to UNRWA to enquire whether they would be able to facilitate the work of our staff by providing them protection for when they need to move around. We were unable to reach an agreement as UNRWA was unable to even guarantee the safety of their own staff following the fatal attacks on their humanitarian aid convoys. Since 27 December, 13 medical personnel have been killed and 24 injured whilst on duty. As regards facilities, 16 ambulances have been damaged or destroyed, and 16 health facilities have been damaged through direct or indirect shelling.
PMRS is an active member of the Health Coordination Committee of NGOs working in the health sector which meets on a weekly basis in Ramallah. At a previous meeting, the Committee agreed that WHO would facilitate the transportation of aid to Gaza on behalf of all the Committee members. All aid packages are clearly labelled with the details of the sending organisations to ensure correct and easy distribution once in Gaza. The first PMRS aid shipment containing medical supplies and milk was sent from Ramallah on 5 January with a WHO/UNRWA truck, and it arrived in Gaza on 12 January. The next shipment which also contains medical supplies and milk will be sent off today. The humanitarian aid still flows very slowly into Gaza due to very limited access allowed by the Israeli army.
PMRS also coordinated with Jordan the evacuation of injured people to Amman, and is coordinating the establishment of a field hospital, equally in cooperation with Jordan.
After Israel unilaterally announced a ceasefire, direct attacks seized, but relief efforts remain of utmost urgency as people are still in life threatening conditions. Although primary health care is now slowly resuming, major challenges lay ahead. As many as 34 health facilities have been damaged or destroyed, among which the PMRS clinic in Jabalia that was damaged after Israeli troops attacked the UN-school. The WHO warns of the risk of an outbreak of epidemic diseases. Handicap International estimates that up to 50 percent of people injured during the latest Israeli military operation have sustained severe injuries that will require rehabilitation in order to prevent permanent disability. PMRS is doing all in its power to effectively respond to the current needs.
Medical Relief is now focussing on the general call that was included in the Gaza Emergency Proposal, including the continuous functioning and expansion of its Primary Health Care clinic, through the establishment of a two-shift system that ensures a 24-hour availability of medical staff to provide treatment to people in need, and the functioning of 2 ambulances, equally running for 24 hours per day.
In order to achieve the desired results, PMRS emphasises the importance of working with people in the long term. Therefore, apart from emergency responses, PMRS now started to work on its long-term goals through the provision of comprehensive rehabilitation, including psycho-social services.
Moreover, PMRS –in coordination with Physicians for Human Rights- is calling for an investigation to be conducted on the Gaza crisis, resulting in the production of a collection of factual reports on a variety of subjects.
PMRS is calling on all its partners to assist doctors, nurses, volunteers and people with experience in psycho-social work, to help us in our relentless efforts to bring relief to all those people still in desperate need of medical care. The possibility of volunteering with our teams can be discussed.