Humanitarian AidWHO-led UN and Red Crescent Mission Evacuates 31 infants in Gaza

WHO-led UN and Red Crescent Mission Evacuates 31 infants in Gaza

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A second WHO-led joint UN mission, working in collaboration with the Palestine Red Crescent Society, earlier today evacuated 31 infants from Al-Shifa Hospital in northern Gaza, to a hospital in southern Gaza. The Palestine Red Crescent supplied and staffed 6 ambulances to transport the severely ill babies.  Other mission members included UN Mine Action, UNICEF and UNRWA. The mission was once again assessed as high-risk, due to the active combat taking place in close proximity to the hospital. 

Due to the lack of electricity to run life support and security risks in the hospital, the neonatal unit in Al-Shifa had earlier moved. These premature and low birthweight infants were relocated to a safer area within the hospital. Yesterday and last night, two babies died before the evacuation could take place. (Note, there were 33 babies under care yesterday, according to a Ministry of Health update.)  

The infants were successfully transported to the neonatal intensive care unit at Al-Helal Al-Emarati Maternity Hospital in southern Gaza. They are currently being assessed and stabilized. Doctors there say all the babies are fighting serious infections. This is due to a lack of medical supplies and the impossibility to continue infection control measures in Al-Shifa Hospital. Eleven are in critical condition.  

Sadly, none of the infants were accompanied by family members. The Ministry of Health has only limited information and is not currently able to find close family members. The hospital evacuated six health workers and 10 of their family members who had been sheltering at the hospital.   

Health workers and patients requested the evacuation during the joint mission yesterday. Al-Shifa Hospital is no longer able to function due to a lack of clean water, fuel, medical supplies, food, and other essential items. Intense hostilities make the evacuation necessary. WHO remains deeply concerned about the safety and health needs of patients and health workers who remain at Al-Shifa Hospital. Also, the few partially functional hospitals in the north face imminent closure.

Together with other hospitals, fully restoring Al-Shifa Hospital, once the largest and most advanced referral hospital in Gaza, is imperative to urgently provide needed health services in the region.

Today’s mission was led by senior WHO staff, including a medical specialist and a doctor, and representatives from UNICEF, UNMAS and UNRWA as noted above. It included medical staff from the Palestine Red Crescent Society, along with their ambulances. WHO is grateful for their partnership, and the support of the rest of the UN, working together as One UN. 

The complex and high-risk operation, occurring in an active conflict zone, follows an assessment mission yesterday, 18 November, which included public health experts, logistics specialists, and security staff from OCHA, UNDSS, UNMAS/UNOPS, UNRWA and WHO.  

There remain over 250 patients and 20 health workers at Al-Shifa, who all request immediate evacuation. Planning is ongoing to evacuate the remaining patients, their families and the health-care workers. Given the complex security and logistics constraints, these evacuations will take several days to complete. The 22 dialysis patients and 50 patients with spinal injuries will receive priority. WHO reaffirms its respect for the dedication, professionalism, humanity and courage of the health staff who have continued to care for their patients under unimaginably difficult conditions. 

Also Read: Women and infants bearing the brunt of the conflict in Gaza, UN agencies warn

Furthermore, WHO reiterates its plea for collective efforts to bring an end to the hostilities and humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. WHO has called for an immediate ceasefire. The sustained flow of humanitarian assistance at scale, and unhindered humanitarian access to all those in need. The organization emphasizes the unconditional release of all hostages, many of whom have serious medical needs. And it also urges the cessation of attacks on healthcare and other vital infrastructure.

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