Bearing witness to the medical needs in Gaza

Our Medical Director Dr Ammar Darwish embarked on an operating surgical mission to Gaza to offer his trauma surgery skills to those most in need. As he crossed the border into the besieged territory, he faced trucks held up for miles, filled with much-needed aid. 

Hell on earth” 

As Dr Darwish travelled deeper into Gaza, he observed the expanse of makeshift tents, shelters for internally displaced families. Some had no tents at all, resorting to crafting shelters from plastic sheets that offered little protection from the cold and wet weather.  

Entering Khan Yunis Hospital, Dr Darwish was met with exhausted medical staff who were battling with limited supplies. Vast numbers of patients with extreme injuries came through the doors and difficult choices had to be made within minutes on who could be saved.  

Adapting to an impossible environment  

Lack of electricity and water are causing numerous health complications. Without electricity, patients in need of ventilation struggled to breathe. The absence of water prevented the sterilisation of medical tools. Medication, antibiotics, painkillers, and even anaesthesia were sparce – basic resources that should be present in any hospital.  

Children with severe injuries from shrapnel lay in beds with little to no relief due to lack of medical resources. 

I met a very scared six-year-old boy that had a shrapnel injury in his abdomen. Because of the complexity of the injury, and because of limited resources such as antibiotics, the boy’s abdomen was open and there were a lot of holes in his bowels. Anything he ate or drank was leaking out of his abdomen. That child had not had any food to eat, or a proper drink, for a whole month; he was a skeleton. 

Stretched to limits 

Despite the chaos, resilience and humanity ran through the Gazan people. Local medical staff welcomed Dr Darwish and his team, despite managing the loss or unknown status of their homes or family members. They were stretched to their limits, with only nine operating hospitals left of all the 36 hospitals in Gaza.  

“You cannot but compare it to our work in a UK major trauma centre, where for one trauma patient, you might have six, seven, even 10 doctors treating them. In Gaza you are one doctor for 10 people, 15 people, which means you have to make really heavy decisions on who to treat. It sits heavy on my heart that there were many children we could not even see to in time.  

“I’ve been part of over 45 global missions in conflict zones, with Syria, Aleppo, being one of the most challenging. This mission to Gaza was the most difficult mission that I’ve been through physically, mentally, even psychologically, because of the amount of injury that I witnessed and the amount of devastation and carnage we were faced with and with only basic supplies and resources.”  

Medical needs for years to come 

“The number of injured people now in Gaza has exceeded 70,000. If you can imagine the complexity of these injuries – these patients will need years of medical care, surgical operations, physiotherapy, and a lot of resources to reconstruct their injuries. There is a huge need for humanitarian aid, but first there must be a ceasefire.” 

We have provided training to 79 UK surgeons who are preparing to or have already travelled to Gaza to provide life-saving aid. Many more are scheduled to depart. Our aim remains steadfast and unwavering – to ensure everyone has access to safe, skilled surgical care.  

We are committed to supporting the Palestinian people until we are able to train in-country again.