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March 30, 2020

Corona in Gaza

Opinion

March 30, 2020

For the past few weeks we have been inundated with information about the preparedness of health care systems and how they affect mortality rates. Giving South Korea as an example, experts suggest that testing for Covid-19 is essential for saving lives, comparing that country favorably with Italy and Spain. Yet in Gaza, there are currently very few test kits (about 200), and, according to Ghada Majadli of Physicians for Human Rights, Israel, as of March 23, only 99 people have been tested.

We also know that people are dying in many countries because hospitals are overwhelmed, unable to cope with the mass influx of new patients in need of ventilators. Doctors are warning that with 52 and 40 ventilators per 100,000 people in the United States and Israel, respectively, stocks are simply insufficient. In the Gaza Strip, by contrast, there are three ventilators per 100,000 people. This will undoubtedly become a death sentence for many.

More generally, Gaza has around 30 hospitals and major clinics, providing an average of 1.3 beds for every 1,000 people, while Israel has more than double this, with an average of 3.3 beds per 1,000, while the European Union averages 5.4 per 1,000. The contrast with Israel, which directly occupied the Gaza Strip for 40 years and continues to control its borders, is not only striking but also a manifestation of what Harvard University Professor Sara Roy has called de-development: the intentional weakening of the economic and social capacities of Gaza’s population.

But a narrow analysis of a county’s medical capacity to cope with the virus provides a very skewed perspective. Indeed, one of the first things I emphasize in my course “Human Rights and Public Health,” which I teach at the Global Health Program at Queen Mary University of London, is that the conditions people are born into, and grow up, live, and work in, are no less significant than the quality of the health care system they have access to.

For example, in order to explain the gap between Gaza’s infant mortality rate of 19.6 deaths for every 1,000 births with Israel’s rate of 2.6 deaths for every 1,000 births, or to understand why Israelis live on average 10 years more than their counterparts in the Gaza Strip, we need to look at the kind of health services accessible to each population as well as the factors that serve as social determinants of health.

The fact that a staggering 53 percent of the population – around 1.01 million people, including over 400,000 children – earn less than the international poverty line of $4.60 a day helps explain why lives in Gaza are shorter.

Excerpted from: 'The Gaza Strip Has Been Under Siege for Years. Covid-19 Could Be

Catastrophic'.

Commondreams.org