In Gaza, 'the wounded are stuck at home'

This interview first appeared in Libération.

Virigine Mathieu, MSF head of mission, talks to Libération about the situation for people in Gaza since the launch of Operation 'Pillar of Defence'.

The Médecins Sans Frontières team in Gaza is made up of five international staff and 40 Palestinians. A small MSF emergency team has also gained entry to the Gaza Strip and can offer additional support.

What kinds of needs are there on the ground?

Since the start of Operation “Pillar of Defence”, there have been 140 deaths and a thousand wounded, about one third of them children. The doctors are overwhelmed. Some patients who were gravely injured have been evacuated to Egypt through the open Rafah border crossing, but also the Israeli border, which is worth noting. Others have been treated within the territory. Despite the situation, the medical services in Gaza are good, with surgeons who are experienced in field surgery. But we’re concerned that people who are injured or need regular care are stuck at home or elsewhere, scared to go out because of the incessant bombing. The leaflets dropped Tuesday by the Israeli army calling for people to evacuate caused major panic. Lots of people left to find refuge elsewhere. The people who have already suffered from years of conflict are under enormous stress.

What are the most urgent medical needs?

Lack of medicines is a chronic problem in Gaza: they don’t have 40 per cent of the medicines considered essential by the WHO, nor do they have 65 per cent of “consumables”, such as IV drips and needles. We have been able to bring supplies (gloves and bandages, anaesthetics and disinfectants) in to the Gaza central pharmacy via Israel since the day after the bombing started. The pharmacy then sends the supplies to 13 public hospitals according to their needs. There’s also a deficit in medical follow-up in Gaza. We’re able to provide support in the area of intensive and post-operative care.

Are you able to move around?

Very little. For the moment, we can only move around inside Gaza City. We can’t go to the north or the south of the territory. There has been shelling over our Gaza City clinic. Some of our materials have been destroyed; a number of ambulances have been damaged, as have the UN buildings and a hospital. This evening one of the two main roads in the Gaza Strip was blocked. We can’t get to the inflatable hospital in Khan Younis that we’ve been using since 2011 – it’s in the south, maybe fifteen kilometres away. This hospital is nonetheless ready to be used as a triage area and an operating theatre for minor surgery.

Do you think you’ll have to leave Gaza if the situation gets worse?

We are doing all we can to ensure the security of our staff. We’ll stay as long as we are able to, like the UN and the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross), who are also present in the Gaza Strip. As for the Palestinian members of our team, they couldn’t leave anyway.

Cordelia Bonal interviewed Virginie Mathieu for French newspaper Libération on 21 November 2012.