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Interview with Doctor at Shifa Hosptial: They Need Medical Supplies Now

July 2006

I decided that I should do some training walks before I walk from Boston to Provincetown for Palestine on August 4th. I walked 16 miles in just under 4 hours on Friday and it wasn’t a piece of cake. I am going to suffer walking 123 miles in 36 hours straight. There’s no question about that, the only question is how much?

I don’t know but it will be no where near as much as the entire civilian population in Gaza is suffering right now. I will have fresh food, clean water and medical facilities available to me – they have none of that. That is why I’m walking.

This interview with a doctor from a hospital in Gaza was just posted today. They need help now. The medical aid shipment that we are sending them is a small but concrete piece of assistance that we can offer them. I’m so glad that we are in a position to be able to offer this.

Full capacity
an interview with Jumaa al-Saqqa

bitterlemons: Please describe the situation at Shifa Hospital at the moment?

Al-Saqqa: The situation at Shifa is very bad. We suffer from a lack of medical supplies and medicines, though yesterday [July 15] we received some supplies from Qatar.

We still function mainly on our emergency generators, and we have a shortage of diesel fuel that runs the generators. From the municipality we only receive six hours electricity a day; for 18 hours we work on the generators.

bitterlemons: How much fuel is needed for the generators?

Al-Saqqa: Every day we need 5,000 liters for our three generators. We have enough for another ten days.

bitterlemons: These three generators, are they the only generators you have?

Al-Saqqa: These are the only generators we have. If one of them breaks down it will be a disaster. The electricity will be cut from vital departments, especially the intensive care unit and the neonatal intensive care unit.

bitterlemons: How many patients are currently in the neonatal intensive care unit?

Al-Saqqa: We have 30 babies in incubators.

bitterlemons: You have previously said that if there were a lot of casualties the hospital would not be able to cope. There have since been a lot of casualties. How is the hospital coping?

Al-Saqqa: We are operating at full patient capacity. We are referring patients to private clinics and hospitals in order to keep some room for emergencies. We are only performing emergency operations.

bitterlemons: So no patients are being kept post-op?

Al-Saqqa: No, but we try to send them to other places. All we do are urgent surgeries. We cannot do any elective surgery.

bitterlemons: How many people do you estimate need surgery but cannot get it done?

Al-Saqqa: Every day, 50 elective surgeries are not being performed at Shifa, ranging from general, orthopedic and neural to plastic surgery.

bitterlemons: What is the feeling among the staff?

Al-Saqqa: People are completely depressed and frustrated. We are working in an extremely difficult situation. The staff has not been paid for months. People suffer from a lack of food and a lack of electricity. It’s too hot and there is no way of cooling down.

Still, people are coming to work. They are humanitarian workers and this work cannot stop. We are calling on the international community to help us. We must also help ourselves.

bitterlemons: How do you deal with refrigeration?

Al-Saqqa: I now keep my clothes in my fridge at home. I eat food straight from the shop. We don’t keep anything.

bitterlemons: And at the hospital?

Al-Saqqa: We still have refrigeration at Shifa, but we notice an increase in patients admitted with food poisoning and gastro-intestinal complications. People cannot preserve their food, and it is hot. Food spoils rapidly.

bitterlemons: There are also reports of problems with sewage?

Al-Saqqa: The machines that are supposed to carry the sewage are breaking down. In the last few days we see more and more dirty sewage water in the streets. This is very dangerous. If it continues, we could see cholera, typhoid, even malaria epidemics. These are all due to dirty water and environment.

bitterlemons: The General Secretary of the UN recently warned that a humanitarian disaster was near in Gaza. Is it already unfolding?

Al-Saqqa: Yes, it has started. There is sewage and garbage in the streets. The municipality is unable to take it away. It’s filthy.

bitterlemons: What needs to be done?

Al-Saqqa: We need fuel and food. We need electricity. The municipality must be enabled to collect garbage and fix the sewage system. We need to be paid. The international community must ensure, at the very least, that we get humanitarian supplies.- Published 17/7/2006 ©

Dr. Jumaa al-Saqqa is a general practitioner and plastic surgeon and director of public relations at Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, the largest hospital in the Gaza Strip.

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