Amid the deafening roar of gunfire and the chilling cries for help, a parallel tragedy unfolds. As militants unleash violence upon innocent civilians, a quieter narrative of suffering exists in another corner of the war-torn region: a desperate struggle for basic medical assistance.
In the wake of conflicts erupting across various corners of the globe, where millions fall victim to brutal clashes, a larger multitude grapples with the agony of unmet medical needs.
As Israel’s war on Gaza rages on, healthcare professionals are finding themselves navigating a challenging predicament, being forced to choose whom to save while contending with staff shortages and depleting supplies.
Last week, in response to the advance of Israeli forces into the region, patients from Northern Gaza's hospitals were evacuated and relocated to the southern areas. A doctor at the European Hospital in southern Gaza told The Guardian that even though theirs was a functioning hospital, they were “being overwhelmed” by the number of patients being brought in.
“There is nowhere to evacuate to … There is no escape route. We are probably one of the last lines of defence,” surgeon Paul Ley said. He described the harrowing scenes at the hospitals, detailing how numerous patients resorted to sleeping in lifts due to lack of space, and others had to get their limbs amputated having developed infections during prolonged periods without treatment.
Cancer patients and those with chronic illnesses are getting sicker and, in most severe cases, facing death due to the unavailability of essential medications along with disruptions in crucial procedures such as chemotherapy and dialysis.
Thousands of women in Gaza are risking their lives to give birth and are undergoing caesareans and emergency surgeries without sterilisation, anaesthesia or painkillers. Frequent power outages have added to the casualties as those on life-support machines and incubators, including infants have died.
Even though medical aid is arriving in Gaza, the Director General of Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip, Munir Al-Bursh, says, “The quantities of medical aid and fuel that arrived in the Gaza Strip, especially the northern areas of the strip, are very limited and insufficient, in light of the catastrophic health condition of the hospitals.”
With Gaza's health system on the brink of collapse, Bursh describes the situation as "extremely catastrophic and lacking the necessary health components."
Ukraine’s hospitals have been frequent targets of attacks by Russian forces, with more than 1100 attacks in the last 22 months, according to health and human rights expert at Johns Hopkins University Leonard Rubenstein.
On November 20, two missiles hit a hospital in Selydove, Donetsk region of Ukraine, killing three and injuring eight.
From developments since the war started, it has become evident that a central aspect of Russia's strategy involves efforts to destroy the healthcare system, significantly jeopardising the right to health for the Ukrainian people.
In war-torn Ukraine, inadequate infrastructure, including the lack of running water and electricity, is proving to be a hurdle to providing essential healthcare services.
Hospitals in eastern Ukraine are only able to offer limited care, forcing patients to travel longer distances or forgo treatment altogether. Routine vaccination rates have sharply declined, particularly among children, increasing the risk of diseases such as polio, measles, and diphtheria.
The management of chronic diseases has become challenging and additionally, the war has taken a toll on mental health, leading to psychological trauma among both civilians and soldiers.
Sudan is facing significant displacement, acute hunger, and the looming threat of widespread diseases, exacerbating the already “dire Human Development outlook”, according to the latest report from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The escalating war in Sudan has created unlivable conditions for civilians, with them struggling to get their hands on basic supplies like food, water and medicine.
Cholera outbreaks have been declared around the country and it is estimated that 3.1 million people are at risk of contracting acute watery diarrhoea and cholera by December. Malaria cases have surpassed 8,00,000.
The World Health Organisation reported shortages of health workers and supplies have forced 80% of facilities in conflict-affected areas of Sudan to shut down.
“More than 42% of the entire country’s population has fallen into high levels of acute food insecurity, and 3.4 million children aged under 5 years – that’s 1 in every 7 children – are acutely malnourished, with over 690 000 children severely malnourished,” the WHO statement read.
WHO also expressed its “gravest concern” for the situation in Darfur, the western region in Sudan most severely affected by the violence. “We are scaling up our cross-border assistance from Chad into Darfur, with WHO this week committing $2.5million of our own finances to support these activities.”
After enduring over a decade of ongoing conflict, the health system and infrastructure in Syria have crumbled, leaving only a handful of healthcare facilities capable of delivering comprehensive treatment. A shortage of clean water and dense living conditions resulted in a cholera outbreak in September 2022, which spread rapidly in 2023.
The devastating earthquake that hit northern Syria in February 2023 has intensified the healthcare crisis in the country, further complicating access to medical assistance. Many of the hospitals lacked the necessary resources to handle an emergency of this scale, with injured individuals scattered in hallways and on floors, leaving doctors feeling powerless.
Since the earthquake, children and women have been worst affected, experiencing a decline in sexual and reproductive health, alongside numerous cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Hundreds of hospitals and health centres collapsed or were severely damaged in the earthquake, leaving pregnant women and new mothers struggling to access essential care, including emergency obstetric support and caesarean sections.