The situation in Gaza, subject of a blockade by Israel and Egypt, has prevented health professionals and institutions to get a hand on antibiotics, medicine or even get basic services such as electricity and water, making it difficult to treat illnesses in a proper way. Doctors knew that the situation could lead to an epidemic as this, but there was little that could be done.
“This is a global health security issue because multi-drug resistant organisms don’t know any boundaries,” Dina Nasser, lead infection control nurse at Augusta Victoria hospital in East Jerusalem who has also worked in Gaza, told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ). “That’s why the global community, even if it's not interested in the politics of Gaza, should be interested in this.”
Such antibiotic-resistant outbreaks find a breeding ground in conflict zones, where people have to deal with scarcity and violence. In Gaza, doctors are forced to treat patients only partially, giving them incomplete courses of antibiotics and substituting treatments with what’s available.
The Gaza Strip suffers from a blockade by Egypt and Israel since 2006, arguing security concerns due an armed conflict between Fatah and Hamas. Since then, the population has been severely affected by the travel and trade restrictions imposed by both countries, although Israel allowed some trade of consumer goods in 2010 and Egypt reopened the border in 2011.
Doctors say that patients injured by the occupation are at high risk of contracting the superbug. About 2000 Gazans who were shot by the Israeli Occupation Forces in their extremities have fell sick with the resistant illness, complicating their treatment even more.
The Great March for Return began on March 30. Since then, over 255 Palestinians have been killed and over 20,000 injured. Many survivors have lost limbs after being shot by Israeli soldiers. Human rights organizations have condemned Israel’s “shoot-to-kill-or-maim” policy.
“We are expecting an absolute catastrophe in terms of residual disability in the wounded,” Dr Ghassan Abu-Sittah, a surgeon at the American University of Beirut Medical Center who treats patients in Palestine, told TBIJ.
Specialists think the bug could easily spread to nearby regions, as Gaza is not completely isolated. Patients may be transferred to other medical facilities in the occupied Palestine, Israel, or neighboring countries, while healthy people could carry the bug outside without showing symptoms of being sick.
“It will always get out,” said Dr Ghassan Abu Sittah, who also studies conflict medicine at the American University of Beirut Medical Center. “There are papers from Scotland that show multi-drug resistant bacteria can be found in the pellets of migrating birds. The idea anyone could be immune to this phenomena is absurd.”
Palestine has registered cases of all superbugs considered by the World Health Organization (WHO) as priority bacteria, those posing the greatest threat to human health.
The situation will likely deteiorate as the United Nation’s World Food Program (WFP) announced dramatic cuts in aid to Gaza and the West Bank by Jan. 1, affecting about 193,000 Palestinians, after the U.S. decided to stop funding assistance programs in Palestine.