GENEVA, Switzerland - The International Red Cross has deployed two surgical teams, additional medical specialists and an influx of supplies to fortify medical facilities in Gaza, which are being overwhelmed as a result of injuries arising out of hostilities on the tiny strips' border with Israel.
The surgical teams, which include surgeons, nurses, and physiotherapists will be deployed for at least six months.
"Thousands of Gaza residents are confronting new, long-term medical needs that the health care system simply can't handle," Robert Mardini, the ICRC's regional director of operations for the Near and Middle East said Friday. "This infusion of medical expertise and materiel will expedite the long road to recovery and relieve a stressed and overburdened health care system."
On Friday a 21-year old female medic was killed when she was shot by Israeli soldiers as she workd near the Gaza border fence.
Razan Al-Najjar was shot near Khan Yunis in the south of the territory, health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qudra said Friday, taking the toll of Gazans killed in the border protests since the March 30th to 123.
Qudra said Najjar was a volunteer with the ministry, and was wearing the white uniform of a medic when she was shot in the chest.
An Israeli army spokesman said they were looking into the incident.
'Since protests and associated violence flared on 30 March, more than 13,000 Palestinians have been wounded, including more than 3,600 by live ammunition, some multiple times, for an estimated total of nearly 5,400 limb injuries, an ICRC statement said.
'The Red Cross's priority is to help gunshot wound victims. Some 1,350 people with complex cases will need three to five operations each, a total of more than 4,000 surgeries, half of which will be carried out by the ICRC teams. Such a caseload would overwhelm any health system. In Gaza, the situation is worsened by chronic shortages of drugs, equipment, and electricity.'
The ICRC initiative, which will include the opening of a 50-bed surgical unit, is part of a $5.3 million budget extension for Gaza. The Red Cross surgical teams and medical experts will be based in a wing of Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest hospital in Gaza. Other hospitals in Gaza and the Palestine Red Crescent Society will also benefit from the assistance, the ICRC statement said.
This week's announcement of the deployment of two surgical teams to Gaza, are in addition to activities by the International Red Cross already in existence. Personnel, equipment and supplies have been arriving in Gaza since the protests began on March 30.
"First there was one casualty. Then two, then eight, then 16. The hospital moved from silence to mayhem within hours. I'm working with an International Committee of the Red Cross surgical team at the Gaza European Hospital in Khan Younis. I arrived in Gaza just 24 hours before Monday's violence began," International Red Cross sugeon Richard Viller said last month.
"As we headed to the hospital, we wondered if this was the calm before the storm – the streets were really quiet. There was virtually no one around. We knew protests were expected."
"I have never seen so many patients in one day. The staff had prepared for it, still it was completely overwhelming," Dr Viller said.
"Certain things really stood out. Non-medical staff stepped up and saved lives. I saw cleaners helping medics with patients. I saw management putting on tourniquets to stop people from bleeding to death. Around 120 to 130 patients were treated in the operating theatres at this hospital alone. A bus would arrive suddenly with up to 40 people onboard. We had to just deal with it."
"Imagine going down to a packed underground station at rush hour but finding those people all needed urgent medical attention, some might be bleeding to death. It was packed, but still there were people in charge, people organizing," said the Red Cross surgeon.
"One case really stood out. I saw a patient who came in bleeding from the femoral artery, the artery in the leg. Blood was shooting up from the trolley to the ceiling. I saw someone pushing down on that artery to save that person's life, until we could put a clip on it."
"That person saved a life then disappeared. I will never know who did that but I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart. It was an act of medical heroism. As far as I could see everyone that came in to our surgical ward alive, left alive. I'm immensely proud of the colleagues I work with for that," the doctor said.
"I've seen people with gunshot wounds before, but never so many. It's my 9th or 10th mission with the Red Cross and this is the most casualties I've ever seen in one day. I think for the staff here it's the same – they tell me they never saw these many patients in one day, in such a short space of time, even in the past. That Monday was a huge logistical challenge, but the teams here succeeded. They can really be proud."
"The staff I am working with are brilliant and totally committed, and patients were able to take levels of pain which would have beaten me. There is clearly a lack of supplies and medical equipment. They have to improvise a huge amount to get through to the end of an operation," Dr Viller continued.
"Sometimes staff are forced to use the wrong antibiotics. Sometimes they have to go without the right supplies. If a patient has been shot through the leg, the bullet can go through the vital artery and patients can bleed out and die in few minutes. We have to repair the blood vessel and we use Heparin, which is a blood thinning agent. The use of Heparin is totally routine in many countries around the world but there is none here and this makes a huge difference."
"My fellow medics here are completely exhausted as a result of the continuous stream of patients. After all, the first influx of wounded was on 30 March. If it happens again, violence on this large scale, it will be really tough to cope – but the staff here will find a way to cope. That's what they do," the Red Cross surgeon said.