October 19, 2021

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There's nothing like our health

UN calls for full opening of Gaza crossing ahead of $100m. funding drive

4 min read
The United Nations called for a full opening of Israel’s two land crossings into Gaza, as it prepared to launch an emergency aid appeal for more than $100 million to help rebuild the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the 11-day Israel-Hamas war that ended last Friday.

“We reiterate the need for all crossings into Gaza to be opened and stay open,” said Stephane Dujarric, the spokesperson for UN Secretary- General Antonio Guterres.

“This is essential for the entrance of humanitarian supplies, including fuel for basic services and supplies to curb the spread of COVID-19 virus,” Dujarric said.

He noted that among the supplies that did enter Gaza on Tuesday was a shipment of COVID-19 inoculations through the UN affiliated global vaccine program to provide protection for 20% of the population in low income countries.

Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are one of the recipients and are expected to receive a million vaccines through COVAX by the end of 2021. The vaccines that entered Gaza were the latest shipment.

In Ramallah on Tuesday US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that his country “will work…to rally the international community to provide 1.5 million doses of safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines to the Palestinian people.”

In addition, he explained that the US is in the process of putting together a $360 million package of economic assistance for the Palestinians of which $5.5 million would be for immediate Gaza assistance.

Blinken is in Israel and the Palestinian territories to help shore up the IDF-Hamas truce and advance plans for Gaza reconstruction efforts, that are coordinated largely by the UN.

In New York, Dujarric spoke of the importance of the crossings to those efforts. There are only three crossings into Gaza, a commercial one at Kerem Shalom and a pedestrian one at Erez. Egypt controls a third crossing at its Gaza border at Rafah, but that crossing is not set up for large scale commercial use.

Kerem Shalom and Erez were largely closed during the 11-day war, but on Tuesday the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) reopened Kerem Shalom for the transfer of humanitarian equipment, medical equipment, food, medicine and fuels to the private sector.

It also is now permitting the transfer of patients for life-saving treatments through the Erez Crossing. However, COGAT warned that transfer of goods and people would be “on condition of the continuation of peace, security and stability.

The UN has not been satisfied with those steps, noting that more needs to be done for humanitarian access.

“Opening the crossings will also ensure the exit of patients who need life-saving treatment and the crossing of Palestinian humanitarian personnel who are critical to the response,” Dujarric said.

The UN’s World Health Organization has said that the coastal enclave is struggling to cope with the pandemic in a situation of poverty, limited resources and a scarcity of vaccines.

Dr. Rik Peeperkorn, head of the West Bank and Gaza office for the World Health Organization, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday evening about the UN’s plans to launch such a large scale $100 million aid campaign, and said it would include $11 million that would be earmarked specifically for acute health-system related repairs.

Peeperkorn said that WHO officials will make a three-pronged response toward the situation in the coastal enclave: trauma and emergency care, mental health care and primary health care.

Emergency care refers to essential medical supplies, consumables and technical assistance.

“Children went through this incredibly fearful crisis,” Peeperkorn said. “Mental health and psychosocial support is incredibly important and it is often underestimated – for victims of violence, healthcare workers and adults, women and men.”

Primary health care refers to general health services, maternal and pediatric medicine, and the treatment of non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and of communicable diseases like COVID-19.

“Assessment is ongoing as to the cost of repair of damaged health facilities’” that were harmed during the air bombardments, Dr. Ayadil Saparbekov, WHO’s Palestinian territories team leader for health emergencies, told the Post.

He said at least nine hospitals, and many more primary healthcare clinics, were partially damaged. The city’s main COVID-19 testing lab was rendered non-functional by an adjacent rocket blast.

The UN has reported that 1,948 Palestinians were injured during the hostilities, including 610 children, 398 women (of whom three were pregnant) and 940 men. It took its information from the Gaza Health Ministry.

Peeperkorn said the aid campaign comes as health officials fear that the escalation in hostilities this month could result in a spike in COVID-19 cases.  

Gaza and the West Bank were emerging from a third wave of COVID-19 when the military confrontation began. Around 75,000 Palestinians were displaced during Operation Guardian of the Walls, which has left many in public shelters.

“We have to refocus our response,” Peeperkorn said, “to focus on prevention, social distancing and masks, which is not going to be easy in Gaza.”

He added that coronavirus vaccination needs to be rapidly expanded.

“Whoever can play a role should try to play a role here,” Peeperkorn stressed. “No one is safe if anyone is sick.”

Israel has already vaccinated more than 5.4 million citizens and has purchased millions more vaccine doses to be used for booster shots as needed in the future.

The country also vaccinated around 120,000 Palestinians, mostly people who work in Israel. The government has said it is not responsible for inoculating the Palestinian population, but top officials in the Health Ministry and Israeli hospitals told the Post that they believe Israel should provide the Palestinians with vaccines.

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