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Ongoing Israeli blockade jeopardizing health of over 1 million Gazans, UN warns

20 January 2010 – United Nations agencies and their non-governmental partners today warned of the impact of the Israeli blockade on Gaza’s population and on health services, and repeated their call for an immediate opening of the border crossings.

“The continuing closure of the Gaza Strip is undermining the functioning of the health care system and putting at risk the health of 1.4 million people in Gaza,” Max Gaylard, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, said in a joint statement with the Association of International Development Agencies.

Hospitals and primary care facilities, damaged during the fighting in Gaza one year ago, have not been rebuilt because construction materials are not allowed into the territory owing to the ongoing blockade, which is now in its third year.

Operation ‘Cast Lead’ – the three-week military operation which Israel said it launched in response to rocket and other attacks by militants in Gaza – damaged 15 of Gaza’s 27 hospitals, and 43 of its 110 primary health-care facilities were either damaged or destroyed.

Certain types of medical equipment, such as x-ray equipment and electronic devices, are very difficult to bring in, and health professionals in Gaza have been cut off from the outside world, the statement noted.

The World Health Organization (WHO) pointed out that many specialized treatments, such as for complex heart surgery and certain types of cancer, are not available in Gaza and patients are therefore referred for treatment to hospitals outside Gaza.

But many patients have had their applications for exit permits denied or delayed by the Israeli authorities and have missed their appointments, with some having died while waiting for referral.

“The Government of Israel has a legal duty to guarantee the right to health for people in Gaza,” declared today’s statement. “The humanitarian community calls for the crossings into Gaza to be reopened.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a report issued last November, stressed that the blockade of vital supplies has devastated Gaza’s economy and “has also severely impaired the realization of a wide range of economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights.”

Today’s statement noted that Gaza’s economy is in virtual collapse with rising unemployment and poverty, which will have long-term adverse effects on the physical and mental health of the population.

In a related development, Mr. Ban has appointed Filippo Grandi of Italy as the Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), effective today.

Mr. Grandi, who has been the Agency’s Deputy Commissioner General since September 2005, succeeds Karen AbuZayd of the United States.

“The Secretary-General is deeply grateful to Ms. AbuZayd for her tireless and dedicated service to the Palestinian people and excellent leadership of UNRWA at an important juncture,” Mr. Ban’s spokesperson, Martin Nesirky, told reporters.

Mr. Ban also announced the appointment of Margot B. Ellis as UNRWA’s Deputy Commissioner-General. Since July 2008, Ms. Ellis has been Acting Assistant Administrator for Asia for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

UNRWA provides assistance, protection and advocacy for some 4.7 million registered Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied Palestinian territory, including in the areas of education, health care, community support and emergency response in times of armed conflict.

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