Fuel crisis in Gaza: MSF is forced to scale back its medical activities

MSF denounces the effects of the embargo on humanitarian medical aid.
Paris/Jerusalem - Médecins Sans Frontières' (MSF) medical activities in the Gaza Strip are being seriously hindered by a lack of fuel. Diesel and gasoline have been unavailable on the market for the past week. MSF teams have had to limit their visits to the most severely ill patients, who make up only one fifth of the patient population of MSF post-surgical care programs. This week, only half of the expected patients have been able to travel to MSF health facilities. There is a waiting list of 90 persons who have not yet received any health care. "The cessation of our activities may result in a severe deterioration of all of our patients' general state of health," explained Duncan McLean, MSF Head of Mission. "Currently, MSF is operating from its emergency stockpile and has no more than 10 days worth of fuel. Unless supplies resume, the situation may very quickly become tragic." The overall condition of other health facilities in Gaza is also very worrisome. Medical personnel are having trouble getting around - up to 40 percent of staff are absent in some hospitals. Patients are faced with the same difficulties. Ambulances must likewise limit their interventions to emergency situations. Hospitals have only a limited emergency stockpile of fuel with which to operate their generators. This shortage is primarily due to a tightening of the embargo in October 2007 and again in January 2008. Since that time, fuel shipments to the Gaza Strip have been progressively decreasing. An attack of Palestinian militants on Gaza's main fuel depot at the beginning of April and a general strike among fuel distributors have further restricted supplies. MSF deems it unacceptable that humanitarian medical aid and the general health system are suffering because of this situation. Since 2006, MSF has denounced the health and economic effects of this embargo. On several occasions, MSF has expressed its concern regarding the repercussions of this blockade on a population that is already severely affected by years of conflict. Over the past two years, Gaza's health-care system has been significantly weakened by economic factors, the dual Israeli-Palestinian/intra-Palestinian conflicts, and divisions within the Ministry of Health. MSF has been present in the Gaza Strip since 1989. MSF's activities consist of post-surgical, pediatric, and mental health care.