No real count of Gazans dying from disease, says UN medic team member

While the victims of missile attacks were being counted, the number of people, especially children, who died from the outbreak of diseases in refugee areas is still unknown.
Dr Santhosh Kumar speaking at Jubilee Mission Medical College on Friday
Dr Santhosh Kumar speaking at Jubilee Mission Medical College on Friday

THRISSUR : “I have been witness to crises in several parts of the world, but what I came across in Gaza was incomparable. I could see a society losing its dignity while struggling to survive,” said Dr Santhosh Kumar, a director of the Emergency Medicine Teams of the United Nations. He was interacting with students of the Jubilee Mission Medical College Hospital on Friday.

Describing the conflict in the Gaza Strip as no less than a genocide, Dr Santhosh said what makes the crisis in the Palestinian enclave different from those in other countries is the fact that people have no place to escape the violence. “Upon entering the border, we could only see refugee tents for many kilometers. Roads and pathways were full of human feces, and some of the tents were raised over waste,” he said.

While the victims of missile attacks were being counted, the number of people, especially children, who died from the outbreak of diseases in refugee areas is still unknown.

“Death due to shortage of medicines, outbreak of non-communicable diseases and infant mortality is very high in Gaza. Even though we managed to conduct surgeries on people injured in missile attacks, post-operative care was a challenge. As hospitals were flooded with the injured, we turned to a local school to open a post-operative wing. It is the local healthcare workers who continue to help the emergency teams make such arrangements,” said Dr Santhosh, a volunteer with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders. He added that the situation is such that more than 1,000 people are being forced to use one toilet, which again lead to infections.

Dr Santhosh said that while medical teams are spared from attacks in war zones, hospitals and even medical staff on the move in Gaza had been targeted.

In reply to a student’s query on what inspired him to take up such a service, Dr Santhosh said he was active in the National Service Scheme (NSS) as a student and he first volunteered to be part of the rescue efforts following the 1993 earthquake in Latur, Gujarat. “It gradually takes one forward. I like to face challenges and be in a crisis area,” he said.

Dr Santhosh was working with Thiruvananthapuram Government Medical College Hospital’s department of orthopaedics before going on leave to volunteer with MSF.

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