‘They are starving,’ says doctor back from Gaza; world food program warns North in ‘full-blown famine’

We get an update on conditions among the besieged and starving population of Gaza—including of children now suffering from the psychological effects of intense and prolonged trauma—from Dr. Walid Masoud.

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SOURCEDemocracy Now!

The World Food Programme is warning northern Gaza has reached a “full-blown” famine that is spreading south. This comes after the Israeli military has spent months blocking the entry of vital aid into Gaza, attacking humanitarian aid convoys and opening fire on Palestinian civilians waiting to receive lifesaving aid. We get an update on conditions among the besieged and starving population of Gaza — including of children now suffering from the psychological effects of intense and prolonged trauma — from Dr. Walid Masoud, a vascular surgeon and a board member of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund who is just back from heading a medical mission to Gaza.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We continue to look at the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza as the head of the World Food Programme warns northern Gaza is experiencing a “full-blown famine,” with severe starvation quickly spreading to the south, due to Israel’s war and total blockade of Gaza. World Food Programme Executive Director Cindy McCain, the widow of the late Senator John McCain, spoke Sunday on NBC News’ Meet the Press.

CINDY McCAIN: There is famine, full-blown famine, in the north, and it’s moving its way south. And so, with — what we’re asking for and what we’ve continually asked for is a ceasefire and the ability to have unfettered access to get in — safe and unfettered access to get into the — into Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: Human rights groups accuse Israel of using starvation as a weapon of war, a war crime. The Israeli military has repeatedly blocked the entry of vital aid into Gaza, attacked humanitarian aid convoys and killed Palestinian civilians waiting to receive food and other aid. A Palestinian mother in Gaza City described the dire situation.

ASMAA AL-BELBASI: [translated] We need food to survive. We need to feed our children. We want to get to this area but can’t get there with cars, because the roads are blocked by rubble from the strikes. The sun hits us as we walk. And you find a long queue there from the morning. And you’re exhausted by the time you return, all for some bread.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Amman, Jordan, where we’re joined by Dr. Walid Masoud, a vascular surgeon, board member of Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. He headed PCRF’s medical mission to Gaza earlier this month.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Doctor. If you can start off by describing what we’re seeing, I mean, to have Cindy McCain, the head of the World Food Programme, saying the north is in “full-blown famine”? Describe the effects and what this means for the people who are surviving in Palestine, Gaza.

DR. WALID MASOUD: Good morning, first of all. Good morning, America.

First of all, let me say about PCRF that our mission is to provide medical and humanitarian relief for the children throughout the Levant, regardless their nationalities or religion. We headed to Gaza under the umbrella of PCRF and the umbrella of WHO. OK? We had one lecture in the WHO in Cairo telling us about the safety measures, what we are going to meet in Rafah.

Once we entered there, the moment we entered there, we could see the children around us begging for food, begging for money, begging for anything. OK? The starvation, you could see it in everywhere in the hospital. We were based in the European Hospital. And in the buildings of the hospitals, it was full of refugees. More than 50,000 refugees came from the north to this hospital, because they feel it is safe. It’s not only in the territory around the hospital, but inside the hospital, inside the corridors, in the stairs, every room, they had refugees.

While we were walking in the corridors, you could see the children around, and you could see by their eyes how they underfed and they have malnutrition and they are starving. You could see how they lost the muscle mass. You could see the skin. You could see how they fatigue. You could see how they are depressed, actually. When you talk to them, they are slow, slow motion in talking. OK? You can see the loss of the weight on these children. In the theaters, when we operate upon children, we could see how their body mass index is low, and we could see they are not oriented, actually, most of the patients upon which we operated. This reflects this decreased immunity of the children and increased rate of the infection, because there is not enough proteins in their body to initiate or to make the immunity system in the right way.

We had to operate immediately as emergency on many injured patients, not only children but also adults. Starvation does not only with the children. It was everyone in the population. Imagine you have 1.8 million in Rafah, and there is not enough food for these. If there is food, you cannot even reach it, because transportations is dangerous. You could see how is the World Kitchen being bombed and killed there. What about the locals? If the foreigners died from bombarding their cars, what about the locals?

You can imagine how 1.8 million, they don’t have enough hospitals. Only three proper hospitals is working in Rafah. We operated in Rafah only, but some of our surgeons went to Al-Kuwaiti Hospital, because they could not transfer the kids to the European Hospital. One of our surgeons, pediatric surgeons, went to the Al-Kuwaiti Hospital and performed 16 surgeries. Totally, we operated around 250 or 275 and more. The situation was very bad in the theater.

The staff, if we talk about the staff, the staff are exhausted, the staff depressed, the staff disoriented. All the staff in the theaters and in the wards in the hospital, they are volunteers, actually. They don’t receive salaries. Do you know what they receive? They are volunteers working, no money, but they receive only the lunch. And this lunch, they eat a little bit. Maybe they eat 10% of their lunch, in order to take the lunch to the tents to their families, because they don’t have money to buy anything. And if they have money, there is not enough food in the market.

We operated upon children who’ve been injured around five, six months ago. We had a patient, 13-years-old patient. I sent you his video. He had shrapnels behind the knee, and he developed a fistula between the artery and the vein. So, because of that, his foot and leg became ischemic, not enough blood, and it began a gangrene in his toes. So, we did such an operation. This patient had a referral letter to go to Egypt for treatment, but he could not, because there is a queue. Maybe it will take him 10 months just to his chance to go to Egypt. We did the operation. We disconnected the fistula. And he is OK. But you could tell how his muscles are weak and there is a loss of muscle bulk with him. His wounds — we followed him a few days after that. His wounds is not healing well because of the lack of proteins in his body, lack of minerals, lack of vitamins in his body. There is not enough food even in the hospital to give them IV fluids or IV nutrients.

Many patients died from infection because they don’t have enough immunity. They don’t have enough antibiotics or proper antibiotics, because sometimes they have the basics of the antibiotics. We managed to bring many medications, many antibiotics, other things, but it’s not that enough. When a mission comes, they bring some, but it’s not enough for 1.8 million people there. And there is, as you said earlier, above 78,000 injured patients.

Our mission was depressing to us from inside, but we were happy to give what we can do to them. There were many things which disturbed us. We could work in an environment which is unsuitable. OK? Example, these drones all the time have noisy, noise, voices, like zzzzz. They called it zanana. First three days, in our team, they could not sleep because of these drones and zanana and these noises. And it is 24 hours there. The staff is exhausted and depressed. When we came, we were seven surgeons from Jordan and one nurse also from Jordan. We had two from Ireland. We have one from Germany and one from United States. All of them, we gathered them. We could not eat full food, because we feel we are guilty once we are eating. And outside, there is a lot of children begging for food, and families, maybe they don’t eat at all or they eat one time a day.

Many surgeries were done, major surgeries, which means that this patient should have well feeding, IV or something, in order his wounds to heal. We managed to help patients, but in some situations it is out of our hands to continue. OK, I managed, for example, to reoperate the lab cath — the cath lab, so we can do some surgeries with intervention, interventional radiology. This cath lab was out of work for more than seven months. We managed to start working on this. We did many surgeries and, the patients, discharged them home.

This is another point. When we did surgery, patient went to discharge. The patient said, “Where I am going? I don’t have any home. I don’t have even tent to go.” So, many patients stay in the hospital so they can have a home, shelter. They can have food also.

We managed — also they have dialysis machines, which is out of work for the last seven, eight months in the European Hospital. We managed, with the help of one of the biomedical engineers who came from Jordan, Dr. Samadi, we managed to fix up these two machines, and we reopened the dialysis unit there. We tried to bring some medicine, some instruments, some tools, equipment to be used for the patients there, but that was not enough.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Masoud, I’m going to interrupt here — 

DR. WALID MASOUD: Not enough for this.

AMY GOODMAN: — because we have to break.

DR. WALID MASOUD: Our mission not only was medical.

AMY GOODMAN: But I know that there is a delay.

DR. WALID MASOUD: We tried to support with —

AMY GOODMAN: Doctor — Dr. Masoud, there’s a delay, but I just wanted to end by saying that we are seeing nonstop breaking news on Twitter now. For example, The New Yorker contributor Mosab Abu Toha says the Israeli army is starting to blow up complete neighborhoods in East Rafah, just four hours after ordering families to evacuate the area. And I wanted to end — we just have 30 seconds — because you work with Palestine Children’s Relief, with your observation that increasingly children are expressing suicidal thoughts. We have 30 seconds.

DR. WALID MASOUD: Unfortunately, I had two patients — one patient and his sister — they were around 8 and 7 years. They were questioning me when I was in the round, “Why I am still alive while my wife — my mother and father and brothers died?” The children there, they started to think about suicidal attempts. And we have another patient who lost their legs and lost all the family, and she’s bedridden. And she tried to attempt suicide.

Children, I cannot imagine how they will grow, these children, in the future, while they were thinking about suicidal attempt because their family has died. Unfortunately, many children thinking about this. I cannot imagine in the future how they will act and how they will look to the world and to the peace. Imagine what’s happening. Each family has lost many of their main supporter as father or mother. This creates a psychiatric situation with these children.

I think as they need surgeons to be there, they need psychiatrists in order to treat these patients. There’s a need, definitely a need, because the increase of the, let us say, not suicide, because I did not see any suicidal attempts, but I heard from many children they are thinking about suicide. Unfortunately, the help now is going through vascular surgeon, orthopedic surgeon, etc. I think we need to send more doctors there. Unfortunately, the borders now is closed.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Walid Masoud, we’re going to have to leave it there as we go to the students who are protesting across the United States. I want to thank you so much for joining us from Amman, Jordan, just back from Gaza, vascular surgeon and board member of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund.

Coming up, the protests at University of Michigan graduation, at State University of New York, New Paltz, and more. Back in 20 seconds.

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