With millions of Palestinians in Gaza facing famine, malnutrition and disease outbreaks, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) warns of a looming public health disaster in Gaza. 

Almost all of Gaza's population has been without access to essential food, clean water and healthcare for six months, pushing the population to the brink of famine. Civilians have been deprived of their right to health, worsened by fatal attacks on over 200 aid workers delivering life-saving assistance. IRC and partners are seeing many cases of patients, including children, die of easily preventable or treatable diseases. Projections by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Johns Hopkins Center for Humanitarian Health make clear that even with an immediate ceasefire, up to nearly 12,000 people would lose their lives in Gaza as a result of disease. Nearly 90,000 could die of secondary health impacts alone should the conflict escalate further.

Dr. Seema Jilani, Senior Health Technical Advisor for Emergencies, said,

“No hospitals in Gaza are fully functioning any longer. IRC staff and partners in Gaza continue to witness devastation in the health facilities that are left. Palestinians are often forced to weigh whether it is worth the risk of death or encountering violence to get to a hospital, given unprecedented attacks, total absence of medical supplies, and the burden on existing health services. Patients as young as 4-months-old are dying from preventable or easily treatable diseases like pneumonia and gastroenteritis.

“Many patients arrive either dead on arrival or too sick to warrant resuscitation due to delaying their care. When people do reach health facilities, labs are not functional, and mass casualties take priority for triage. So patients with infectious diseases may not get seen for weeks at a time because trauma patients are admitted so frequently. With the delay of care, complications ensue. While there have not been large-scale epidemics in Gaza for over a decade, the population has now been left vulnerable to infectious diseases such as flu, Covid,  pneumonia, bacterial dysentery, cholera, polio, measles and meningitis.

“With Gaza’s health system decimated by Israel, diseases once easily controlled are now spreading, and children, especially malnourished children, are the most susceptible. Projections suggest that the spread of cholera, measles, polio, and meningococcal meningitis pose a mortal threat. There have been 8,000 reported cases of Hepatitis A, a vaccine-preventable and usually limited illness. However, without timely health care, it can result in liver failure, complications, and even death.  As IRC previously warned, typhoid and cholera are also a high outbreak risk. 

"Immunity, previously ensured thanks to high levels of vaccination, is now decreasing especially among children and babies, who have now missed multiple doses of key vaccines including Hepatitis B, polio, and rotavirus. 

“Respiratory infections and other endemic infectious diseases are currently widespread due to exposure, overcrowding in shelters, lack of access to proper sanitation facilities, and inability to access treatment.  The IRC and partners working in Gaza have seen children die from diarrhea - affecting children at rates 25 times higher than before October 7th - otherwise easily treated with fluids and antibiotics. Half of the over 330,000 respiratory infections reported from October to January were children under 5, many of whom might face fatal or debilitating consequences given the current state of health care in Gaza.

“Our findings are a testament to the dire human stakes of delay, restriction of humanitarian aid access to Gaza, and ongoing war which threatens health care workers, the very people trained to respond to their communities. Despite hopes stemming from recent commitments by Israel to boost assistance the situation for Gazans remains catastrophic. The IRC continues to call for an immediate and sustained ceasefire, the opening of all border crossing points, and unimpeded and unfettered aid access to avert the total collapse of public health in Gaza.”

IRC also welcomes all efforts to prevent further escalation of conflict, which is the last thing the Middle East needs. The diplomatic focus must not neglect the ongoing conflict and trauma in Gaza, where millions of Palestinians, and the Israeli hostages being held, face a mounting humanitarian nightmare. 

The IRC and partners in Gaza are providing emergency and life-saving medical care, including direct medical care, in Gaza’s few remaining operational hospitals, as well as procuring and distributing medical supplies and pharmaceuticals. The IRC is also working with partners to deliver psychosocial support, cash assistance, and early childhood development programs in Gaza's many shelters. The IRC is working to scale up its programming in water, sanitation and hygiene, nutrition and protection of women and children.