COVID-19: too few ventilators in Gaza, Syria and Yemen, Save the Children warns

COVID-19: in Gaza, Syria and Yemen fewer than 730 ventilators and 950 intensive care beds for over 15 million children and their families. The fight against coronavirus, therefore, becomes unsustainable

Less than 730 fans and 950 intensive care beds for over 15 million children and their families in the areas most difficult to reach by humanitarian organizations in Yemen, northern Syria and Gaza to fight eventual infection by COVID-19.

This is the alarm launched today by Save the Children, the international organization that for over 100 years has been struggling to save children at risk in areas where the health care is poor and guarantee them a future. the lack of health facilities in these areas makes them highly unprepared to respond to the spread of COVID-19. The lack of ventilators and intensive care beds is an issue, too.

Coronavirus in areas of crisis

Gaza has been under blockade for 13 years, Syria has just entered its tenth year of conflict – with strong tensions continuing to occur in the north of the country – and Yemen is in its sixth year of the war, says Save the Children.

In all three areas, health systems have been severely compromised, and in some cases are now collapsing, and have medical resources that are already unable to respond to current needs and would therefore not be able to face a global pandemic. Intensive care units do not have enough beds to host possible infected people.

In Syria, at the moment, 9 COVID-19 cases and one death are confirmed, 9 cases of positivity also in Gaza, while Yemen has not yet declared any of them. But there is much tension.

Beds in the intensive care units

In north-west Syria, the Organization explains, there are a total of 153 fans and 148 intensive care beds, compared to almost one million displaced people living in overcrowded areas and a population of 3 million people, including 1.5 million children.

Likewise, there are fewer than 30 ICU places in northeastern Syria, only ten adult ventilators and one pediatric ventilator, for a population of 1.3 million people, half of whom are children. There are no tampons available across the country.

In Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas in the world, with a high percentage of the population living in refugee camps with limited access to water and other basic services, only 70 beds are available for 2 million people in intensive care and 62 fans.

A worrying scenario that also concerns Yemen, where only half of the hospitals are still fully functional and where 700 intensive care beds are available, including 60 for children, and 500 fans, all for a population of over 30 million people, of which over 12 million are children.

SARS-CoV-2 and humanitarian organizations

The support of humanitarian organizations to people in need is essential to slow down the spread of COVID-19 in this critical phase, but the possibility of reaching children and their families is often hampered by conflicts, movement restrictions and other problems.

Preventive measures such as social distancing and hand washing are very complicated if not impossible in overcrowded areas such as Gaza and refugee camps in northern Syria.

Furthermore, water sources are often not safe and daily water shortages can occur. In Gaza, for example, 96 per cent of the available water is not clean and many times undrinkable for human consumption.

“What I’m most afraid of is that there are so many people in Gaza and we don’t have the means to deal with the virus,” Rafaat *, 13, told Save the Children.

“Because of this pandemic, we have to stay home and our family is unable to earn anything,” added 11-year-old Jood *.

“I have heard of COVID-19. My family members say it is very dangerous and that if it arrives in Yemen we cannot survive. My mother walks to the well every day for 15 minutes to fill the water container and then takes another 15 minutes to go back.

The water is not clean, but it is the closest source for us. We use it for cooking, drinking and washing. We try to use it as little as possible, so as not to go out again to pick it up, ”said Moneer * of Taiz, Yemen.

“In places where medical care is scarce, prevention is essential. However, measures such as social distancing are extremely difficult in conflict countries.

In Gaza, for the Palestinians to be able to respect the distance of two meters from each other, the territory should be ten times larger than it currently is; Syrian families living in IDP camps should expand into other tents that are not there, while in Yemen, where about 2 million children suffer from acute malnutrition, the priority is to get food, “said Jeremy Stoner, Regional Director of Save the Children in the Middle East.

“Many children in Gaza, Syria and Yemen already have worrying health conditions due to a childhood consumed by the war. They risk suffering from malnutrition, being injured or not being vaccinated. The same goes for their parents, many of whom have little or no family support and cannot even afford to get sick. It is literally a matter of life and death to ensure the support needed in these areas for a COVID-19 outbreak to be contained, “added Stoner.

Save the Children calls on the government of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the de facto authorities of Gaza to assume their international responsibilities and guarantee the right to health for children in Gaza and the West Bank, including Jerusalem. Restrictions on the entry of humanitarian and medical aid to Gaza must be lifted and people in need of medical care must have access to it.

The organization also calls on the parties to the conflict in Syria to observe a complete ceasefire in the northwest, in order to guarantee unhindered humanitarian access to reach people in need. Similarly, even in Yemen, all warring parties must fully implement the recently announced ceasefire to help the country prepare for a possible COVID-19 outbreak.

Due to the closure of international borders, blocking flights and new restrictions on movement, Save the Children is already facing a slowdown in its humanitarian response. In this context, field operators must, therefore, be able to reach people in need with existing humanitarian aid and distribute hygiene products, telephone cards, economic aid without hindrance and conduct awareness-raising sessions for prevention.

Save the Children is strongly committed in Syria, Yemen and Gaza so that projects for children can be carried out. The safety of children, communities and our staff is a top priority and for this, we take all measures to deal with the epidemic. Like other international organizations, we are working on emergency plans to ensure that our work can continue in the area and we are preparing to respond to the needs of children affected by the pandemic.

* the names have been changed to protect the identity of minors

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