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A look into how Gaza's hospitals are struggling to get by

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The situation in Gaza City seems to be worsening as Israeli ground forces are reportedly engaged in heavy street battles with Hamas fighters. The death toll is now more than 11,000, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Israel says it's trying to rescue hostages and prevent more attacks, like the one last month that killed some 1,200 people. But hospitals and all the medical staff, patients and people seeking shelter in them face dire conditions.

The fighting seems to be especially heavy around the city's main hospital, Al-Shifa. On Saturday, Al-Shifa completely ran out of fuel. Gaza's health officials say that two premature babies died as a result, and there are fears that kidney dialysis patients may also begin dying without proper treatment. Doctors Without Borders has medical teams inside Al-Shifa hospital. They've been in contact with their deputy program manager, Dr. Amber Alayyan, who is in Paris. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

AMBER ALAYYAN: Thank you.

CHANG: So what is the current situation on the ground in Al-Shifa? Like, what are you hearing from your team there right now?

ALAYYAN: It sounds absolutely horrific from what we're hearing. The last contact that we'd had from one of our staff was along the lines of, please help us, we're being killed, which was from a nurse who was sheltering in the basement with his family. We've had a number of staff who've continued to work there without any obligation but who've just, you know, out of the goodness of their hearts, as health care workers tend to do...

CHANG: Right.

ALAYYAN: ...Stayed on and continued to work. And we're hearing just horror stories from them, and we have been for the last month.

CHANG: Well, I imagine that all hospitals in Gaza right now must be overwhelmed. What do you know about the situation at other hospitals?

ALAYYAN: It's equally desperate. I know that there are no functional hospitals in the north of Gaza right now. Four of them had been hit in the last three or four days. And then in the south, the situation is also quite terrible just because there is dwindling fuel supplies, no water, no food for patients. People are arriving in the hospitals looking for shelter. The people who've fled to the south are also saying that it's not safe there. There are still bombings going on in the south. So we've managed to get some supplies in that we've been sending to the south because we can't even get our teams past the Wadi Gaza line, like, the middle of the strip.

CHANG: I wanted to ask you about that because Israel says it is offering people safe passage from the hospitals but that Hamas has interfered with that in some cases. What are your people telling you about that?

ALAYYAN: They're telling us that there are snipers and tanks around the hospital. So many of them tried to get into the hospital just to be able to, like, relieve coworkers in the last couple of days. And they haven't been able to go anywhere near it because there are snipers and because of the ongoing fighting. And then the same for the people trying to get out. They haven't been able to. So I can't imagine. And then I had also heard a report today about - a supposed report about a humanitarian - or not a humanitarian but a corridor safe passage. But these are people in wheelchairs and hospital beds who have serious, serious trauma. They can't walk out on their own. It's impossible.

CHANG: Absolutely. Well, of all the urgencies that are simultaneously happening right now, what are the things that are of greatest need at this moment to your colleagues and to the people they're trying to help at these hospitals?

ALAYYAN: I mean, I think first and foremost, water. And then I would go to fuel and food. And those are just basic necessities for humans to be able to live, much less just to be able to run a hospital.

CHANG: Right. And any idea when or even if you will be able to get those things?

ALAYYAN: No, I don't. It's - we just seem like we're kind of hearing a lot of false promises and getting a lot of false hope, and nothing is really coming through. And then we've also heard that even if we were to be able to send through supplies, that the vehicles on the other side are now out of fuel too so they...

CHANG: Wow.

ALAYYAN: ...Couldn't even receive them. There has to be a cease-fire.

CHANG: That is Dr. Amber Alayyan, deputy program manager for Doctors Without Borders, speaking to us from Paris. Thank you so much for joining us today.

ALAYYAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Linah Mohammad
Prior to joining NPR in 2022, Mohammad was a producer on The Washington Post's daily flagship podcast Post Reports, where her work was recognized by multiple awards. She was honored with a Peabody award for her work on an episode on the life of George Floyd.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Kathryn Fox