Latest news on the Israel-Hamas war: real-time updates

Infectious diseases are ravaging Gaza’s population, health officials and aid organizations said Monday, citing cold, wet weather; overcrowding in shelters; poor food; Dirty water; and little medicine.

Adding to the crisis in the enclave after more than two months of war, those who fall ill have extremely limited treatment options, as hospitals have been overwhelmed with patients wounded by airstrikes.

“We are all sick,” said Samah al-Farra, a 46-year-old mother of 10 struggling to care for her family in a camp housing displaced Palestinians in Rafah, southern Gaza. “All my kids have high fevers and a stomach virus.”

Although the collapse of Gaza’s health system has made it difficult to track exact numbers, the World Health Organization has reported at least 369,000 cases of infectious diseases since the war began, using data collected by the Gaza Ministry of Health and the UNRWA, the United Nations agency that cares for the Palestinians – a staggering increase from before the war.

And even the WHO’s extraordinarily high number fails to capture the scale of the crisis: Shannon Barkley, the team responsible for health systems at the World Health Organization’s offices in Gaza and the West Bank, said cases are not included in northern Gaza, where the war is ongoing. You have destroyed many buildings and what remains of the healthcare system is overwhelmed.

The most common illnesses raging in Gaza are respiratory infections, Ms. Barkley said, ranging from colds to pneumonia. Even normally mild illnesses can pose serious risks to Palestinians, particularly children, the elderly and the immunocompromised, given the dire living conditions, she said.

Ms al-Farra, speaking by telephone, said her family had been sleeping on the floor since they fled Khan Younis, a town just north of Rafah, a week ago. For the past three days, Ms. al-Farra said, she and her children have had high fevers and suffered persistent diarrhea and vomiting.

Like many others in the battered enclave, Ms al-Farra said she and her family had been drinking the same smelly water they used to wash.

“When I wash my hands, I feel like they get dirtier, not cleaner,” she said.

Her youngest daughter, 6-year-old Hala, had spent most of the past three days sleeping and was too weak to ask for food after weeks of starvation, Ms. al-Farra said. “She used to ask for more food, but now she can’t even keep anything down,” she said. Her 9-year-old son, Mohammad, had convulsions, probably due to the fever she was suffering from.

The Israeli army on Monday announced the opening of a second security checkpoint at the Kerem Shalom crossing – on the border between Israel, Gaza and Egypt – to screen humanitarian aid arriving through Egypt, a move intended to allow more food, water and medical supplies. and store the equipment in Gaza. Humanitarian organizations said the rate of aid arriving in Gaza since the breakdown of a temporary ceasefire a week and a half ago was far from sufficient.

Hospitals still considered functional are focused on providing critical care to patients with traumatic injuries from airstrikes, according to Marie-Aure Perreaut Revial, emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders, speaking from Al-Aqsa hospital in central Gaza . But many of these patients receive postoperative care in unsanitary conditions, resulting in serious infections, she said.

Palestinians displaced in temporary accommodation near UN warehouses in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. Infectious diseases are spreading due to unsanitary conditions in overcrowded shelters.Credit…Mahmud Hams/Agency France-Presse — Getty Images

And the primary health system in central Gaza has completely collapsed, he said, leaving those in need of basic medical care without care.

“There’s a huge focus on the injured and the injured patients, but it’s the whole health system that’s just being grounded,” he said.

Gaza citizen Ameera Malkash, 40, said that when she first took her pale, incarcerated son, Suliman, to a hospital in Khan Younis for the first time last month, the hospital was overrun with victims of the attacks that day. planes. They were unable to consult a doctor.

They tried again the next day, he said by phone, and the doctor told them it was hepatitis A, a liver infection caused by a highly contagious virus that spreads easily through contaminated water. Suliman was supposed to be quarantined, but there were no more rooms in the hospital, Ms. Malkash said, so they had no choice but to return to a shelter filled with thousands of other people.

Last week, Palestinian Authority Health Minister Mai Alkaila said that around 1,000 cases of hepatitis A had been recorded in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Authority’s Health Ministry is based in the West Bank and operates separately from the Ministry of Health. of Health in Gaza.

Dr. Marwan al-Hamase, director of Rafah’s Abu Yousef al-Najjar hospital, said Sunday that his small facility housed hundreds of displaced people, and that they slept on the floors where the wounded were also treated. Those floors haven’t been cleaned for weeks, he said, because “we can’t find cleaning supplies.”

Malnutrition has become “out of control” and cases of anemia and dehydration among children have almost tripled, Dr al-Hamase said.

Milena Muir, spokeswoman for the aid agency Mercy Corps, said that when her colleagues in Gaza fled their homes two months ago, they did not prepare for the weather that turned cold and rainy. Many did not bring blankets, jackets or warm clothes.

Displaced people taking refuge in UN-run shelters share bathrooms without running water. And fecal matter that accumulates in the streets can contribute to the spread of disease and further contaminate water sources, said the WHO’s Barkley.

Firas al-Darby, 17, who is staying at a United Nations school-turned-shelter in the south, said he has had a fungal infection all over his body for weeks. “Bacteria, dirt, disease and epidemics are everywhere in the school,” he said.

Hala al-Farra also had a rash, her mother said, in addition to lice. Ms al-Farra added that she was considering cutting Hala’s hair because she could not afford shampoo.

“I have no idea how I will help my children,” Mr. al-Farra said. “Now I go around knocking on people’s houses and looking for clean water.”

Abu Bakr Bashir AND Aaron Boxerman contributed to the reporting.