Donkey Carts Ferry Patients to Hospital in Gaza; WHO Pushes for Zero Leprosy
Gaza man walks across a pile of rubble.

The World Health Organization (WHO) was able to get medical supplies to Nasser Hospital in southern Gaza on Monday but trucks attempting to deliver food were delayed near the checkpoint then were raided “by crowds who are also desperate for food”, said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the global body’s Director-General.

Despite challenges including heavy fighting in the vicinity, Nasser Hospital – the main hospital serving the south – continues to offer health services but at a “reduced capacity”, he added.

“The hospital is operating with a single ambulance. Donkey carts are being used for transporting patients,” Tedros told the WHO’s weekly press conference on Wednesday.

“WHO continues to face extreme challenges in supporting the health system and health workers. As of today, over 100,000 Gazans are either dead, injured, or missing and presumed dead,” he added.

Tedros warned that the risk of famine in Gaza is “high and increasing each day with persistent hostilities and restricted humanitarian access”.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

He also described the decision by various countries to freeze aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) as “catastrophic”.

“No other entity has the capacity to deliver the scale and breadth of assistance that 2.2 million people in Gaza urgently need,” added Tedros, echoing a statement released earlier in the day from the Inter-Agency Standing Committee that coordinates humanitarian aid amongst the United Nations agencies, including the WHO. 

Israel has claimed that UNRWA staff members were involved in, or assisted, the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October. The UN has launched an  investigation and some staff members have already been fired.

However, the WHO’s executive director of health emergencies, Dr Mike Ryan, dismissed a claim by an Israeli diplomat that the WHO was “colluding” with Hamas.

“We cooperate with NGOs but collude with no one,” Ryan told the press conference, adding that such a claim endangers WHO staff in the field.

Ryan described the environment for health workers as “frantic” and “terrorising”, as they tried to  do more and more with less and less, while Tedros said that both health workers and patients were surviving on one meal a day.

“The humanitarian space is is very constrained,” said Ryan. “Every aspect of what the agencies and NGOs are trying to do is constrained. We are constrained in bringing assistance in across the border. We’re constrained in how we store it. We’re constrained in  how we can distribute it, with so many distribution plans being denied or being impeded.

We’re constrained in the number of health facilities that are operational.”

Towards Zero Leprosy

Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy

Meanwhile, Tedros also addressed leprosy, one of the world’s neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), a day after global NTD Day and three days after international Leprosy Day.

“One of the oldest and most misunderstood diseases in the world is leprosy,” said Tedros.

“The world has made great progress against leprosy. 

“The number of reported cases has dropped from an estimated five million a year in the mid-1980s to about 200,000 cases a year now. Although it has now been curable for more than 40 years, it still has the power to stigmatise. Stigma contributes to hesitancy to seek treatment, putting people at risk of disabilities and contributing ongoing transmission,” said Tedros.

Yohei Sasakawa, the WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy, appealed for assistance to spread the message globally about leprosy’s symptoms and treatment in order to achieve “zero leprosy”.

Massive stigma

Sasakawa said that the disease still existed in 100 countries.

“Over the past 50 years, I have visited leprosy endemic areas in over 120 countries,” said Sasakawa. “Everywhere, I met with countless numbers of people who have been abandoned, not only by society, but even by their own families and are living in despair and in solitude.”

He said that many people ignored initial signs of the disease – discoloured patches on their skin – because it was initially painless.

“We need to carry out extensive work to do our [Zero Leprosy] campaign to find the hidden cases, now that the drugs are available free of charge worldwide,” he stressed.

“I believe it is an opportune time to give another strong push to achieve zero leprosy by strengthening active case detection and prompt treatment.”

Image Credits: Care International .

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