July 14, 2024

The steady churn of dialysis machines. The rhythmic drip-drip of blood from IVs. The low hum of life-support equipment keeping the babies in incubators alive, tubes running in and out of their little bodies.

The routine functioning of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in the central Gaza Strip lies in sharp contrast to the chaos of weeks of Israeli bombardment, which in recent days has targeted a number of hospitals in the besieged enclave.

But power and water crises due to Israel’s campaign after Hamas’s October 7 attack – which have already shuttered more than half of Gaza’s 35 hospitals – are drastically affecting the central Gaza hospital as well.

Incubator babies and dialysis patients hooked up to machines dependent on fuel are at particular risk – especially as Al-Aqsa is the sole facility for kidney patients in the central Gaza Strip governorate, Khalil al-Dakran, the hospital’s spokesperson, told Al Jazeera’s fact-checking agency Sanad.

“If electricity and water outages persist and fuel depletes, patients will be transferred to mass graves if the aggression continues,” al-Dakran warned.

“And the world [just] watches,” he continued bitterly.

Dialing down dialysis care

The hospital has seen a surge in the number of patients since the start of the latest conflict, with thousands of wounded streaming in and taxing the hospital’s capacity.

In addition, as thousands of displaced people from northern regions of Gaza poured southwards, the number of patients increased, especially those with chronic diseases needing treatment, like dialysis for kidney ailments.

The hospital has had to limit dialysis treatment times from four hours to two-and-a-half hours, while also having to decrease the frequency of patients’ dialysis sessions per week, al-Dakran said.

Patients are terrified, not only of the bombs raining down, but also about whether they will receive the care they need.

“I undergo dialysis three times a week, waiting for hours on crowded roads, terrified,” displaced woman Maryam al-Jayar told Sanad.

“We wait so long, from morning till night, for dialysis. All while the bombing continues. Now I get shorter and less frequent dialysis and on top of that with water and electricity shortages the dialysis process itself is not working right and can cause blood clots,” Nesma Sharir, another kidney patient said.

Dialysis patients at Al-Aqsa
Dialysis patients at Al-Aqsa [Screengrab/Sanad]

Infants found under the rubble

Meanwhile, the neonatal intensive care department at Al-Aqsa is also buckling under the pressure of the war.

There, nurse Warda al-Awawda hovers above the incubators, checking on the babies lying inside them.

Al-Awawda and her colleagues say there have been a lot more newborns admitted to the intensive care unit, not only premature infants but also newborns injured by the bombings.

Sometimes the journey the babies have to take to get to the hospital contributes to their deteriorated health, al-Awada told Sanad, pointing out that she has had mothers with their babies – or babies on their own – arrive on all sorts of transport, including donkey carts in some cases.

Some babies are carried into the hospital in the caring but jostling arms of someone who has just rescued them from under the rubble and wants them to get the care they need as fast as possible and there are no stretchers available.

Nurse Warda Al-Awawda cares for infants in incubators
Nurse Warda al-Awawda cares for infants in incubators [Screengrab/Sanad]

One infant, Hassan Mishmish, arrived at the hospital after being rescued from under the rubble. His parents were found dead.

“He was in the arms of his dead mother, covered in dust,” al-Awawda said.

“All the nursing staff take turns caring for him after he lost his parents.

“His brother is also injured, he’s in the children’s ward, and his grandmother is also injured. There is nobody from his family left to take care of him,” she added, saying there are dozens of other similar cases of babies found under the rubble.”

It is getting harder for the nurses there to take care of the babies, although it is not for lack of trying. The hospital is struggling under serious shortages of essential supplies, including things as basic as the soap needed for hand sanitisation.

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