'Gravely Concerned' NGOs, U.N. Agencies Call for End to Gaza Blockade

U.N. agencies and an association representing over 80 NGOs are calling for an "immediate opening of Gaza's crossing," asserting that the continuing closure of the Gaza Strip is putting at risk the health of 1.4 million people.

"It is causing on-going deterioration in the social, economic and environmental determinants of health," reported Max Gaylard, the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt).

"It is hampering the provision of medical supplies and the training of health staff and it is preventing patients with serious medical conditions getting timely specialized treatment outside Gaza," he added in a statement released on the one-year anniversary of Israel's military offensive on Gaza.

To support their call, the U.N. agencies and the Association for International Development Agencies (AIDA) highlighted Wednesday the impact of the Gaza blockade on the health of region's population and on health services.

According to the groups – which include Christian NGOs DanChurchAid, Norwegian Church Aid, and World Vision International – the lack of building materials as a result of the blockade is affecting essential health facilities.

And while supplies drugs and disposables have generally been allowed into Gaza, certain types of medical equipment, such as X-ray equipment and electronic devices are very difficult to bring in.

"Clinical staff frequently lack the medical equipment they need. Medical devices are often broken, missing spare parts or out of date," the groups reported.

Health professionals in Gaza, meanwhile, have reportedly been "cut off from the outside world."

"Since 2000, very few doctors, nurses or technicians have been able to leave the Strip for training necessary to update their clinical skills or to learn about new medical technology. This is severely undermining their ability to provide quality health care," the groups stated.

Furthermore, because specialized treatments such as complex heart surgery and certain types of cancer are not available in Gaza, patients are referred for treatment to hospitals outside Gaza.

Many patients, however, have reportedly had the applications for exit permits denied or delayed by the Israeli Authorities and have missed their appointments.

Some have died while waiting for referral, the groups reported.

"An effective health care system cannot be sustained in isolation from the international community," commented Tony Laurance, the head of Office for WHO West Bank and Gaza. "Open borders are needed to ensure the health of the 1.4 million people in Gaza."

After highlighting the status of health in Gaza, the U.N. agencies and AIDA warned that any large scale emergency in the future would bring "serious problems" to Gaza's health sector. Earlier, they noted that even in the current situation, the humanitarian community is "gravely concerned about the future of this generation whose health needs are not being met."

"The Government of Israel has a legal duty to guarantee the right to health for people in Gaza," they concluded. "The humanitarian community calls for the crossings into Gaza to be reopened."

Notably, out of Gaza's 1.5 million people, 44 percent are under the age of 14, according to the CIA World Factbook. According to the U.N. agencies and AIDA, more than 750,000 children live in Gaza.