By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA (Reuters) – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Thursday donated vital intensive care equipment to Gaza hospitals but said they remain underequipped for any wider outbreak of the new coronavirus in the territory.
With passage through Gaza’s borders tightly controlled by neighbouring Israel and Egypt, only 17 people have tested positive in the Palestinian territory for the novel coronavirus.
But health authorities are concerned about the risk of widespread infection among a population of two million living in close quarters in the small coastal enclave.
“The prospect of an outbreak of COVID-19 in Gaza is frightening, given the weakness of the health infrastructure and the dense population of the Gaza Strip,” said Daniel Duvillard, head of the ICRC Delegation in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The ICRC aid included a ventilator, monitors, defibrillators and suction devices and pumps.
“This equipment will help, but much more is needed, and we urge the international community to recognise the seriousness of the risk here,” Duvillard said.
The ICRC said there were only 93 ventilators in Gaza, or one for every 21,505 persons in the territory, where quarantine facilities have been set up by local health authorities for Palestinians who enter via Egypt or Israel.
Health officials in Gaza said they were in immediate need of 100 ventilators, 140 intensive care unit beds and $23 million for their anti-coronavirus emergency plan.
“Gaza is facing this COVID-19 pandemic with its fragile and over-stretched health system, due to long years of closure and siege and poverty and shortages of many resources,” said Abdullatif Alhaj of Gaza’s health ministry.
Palestinians say 13 years of economic sanctions by Israel and its border blockade have crippled their economy and undermined the development of medical facilities, weakening their ability to face a pandemic.
Israel has promised to ensure medical aid reaches Gaza to combat the coronavirus crisis. It has said its long-standing blockade helps prevent money and weapons from reaching the Islamist group Hamas, which has run the enclave since 2007.
Gaza is not yet under full lockdown, but as the holy fasting month of Ramadan starts people are extremely cautious about visiting each other and spending savings.
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Alexandra Hudson)