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Gaza Update: Everyone’s Health Is at Risk

  • April 5, 2024
  • Civil Conflict, Emergency Response

In Gaza, even newborn babies have little chance for a healthy life. While normally, new mothers would be discharged from the hospital with formula and diapers, “there’s nothing to give women and newborns in Gaza,” says critical care nurse Merril Tydings, who volunteered at a clinic in Rafah, Gaza, in February 2024. Without adequate food and water, new mothers cannot breastfeed. “So we were seeing malnutrition or starvation in newborns unable to get the right nutrients from day one,” says Tydings.

Tydings was part of a MedGlobal team of six medical professionals who volunteered at a clinic and hospital in Rafah, Gaza, for three weeks; the team was funded in part by Americares.

At the clinic, Tydings treated a range of urgent health conditions, including infections, heart failure, malnutrition and the beginnings of starvation. “Every layer of humanity and every layer of existence is affected by the conditions that they’re living in and the lack of supplies,” says Tydings. 

“It’s truly astounding to see no access to clean water, no access to a sanitary place to use the bathroom, no access to regular or consistent medical care, no access to supplies, no access to food,” says Tydings. “Seeing how all those factors affect each person — that was most surprising and the hardest to see.” There are an estimated 1.5 million people living in Rafah.

The emergency room at European Hospital normally treats 100 patients a day, but staff were seeing 1,200 to 1,500 in a 24-hour period when Tydings was there. After a missile strike, dozens of wounded people would fill the triage room, many needing resuscitation. The MedGlobal surgeons stayed overnight at the European Hospital so they could operate all night.

With no clean water, infections develop rapidly. “Someone might have been injured in a blast weeks earlier and their wounds became infected,” says Tydings. Surgeons were working in unsanitary conditions without water; the MedGlobal team brought their own supplies, including gloves.

“Aside from the bombs falling out of the sky, all of it is preventable,” says Tydings. “More than half of these ailments came from unsanitary conditions – if they could just boil water and wash their hands, that would help get rid of hepatitis A infections. But they can’t.” Without medicine, chronic conditions escalated into health emergencies – also preventable.

The MedGlobal team worked alongside local health workers who were exhausted, says Tydings. “The amount of mental health care that’s going to be needed for those people is massive,” she says. “They’ve all lost either their whole family or part of their family and they live in fear.”  

Tydings, who lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has been a nurse for 12 years and has previously volunteered in war zones and areas of poverty.