Palestinians face consistent COVID testing kit shortages

23 Sep

A health worker, affiliated to Palestinian Health Ministry, collects a nasal swab sample for a coronavirus (COVID-19) polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test in Gaza City, Gaza on 21 September 2020 [Ali Jadallah – Anadolu Agency. MEMO]

By Yumna Patel, Mondoweiss, 23 September 2020

As the coronavirus continues to spread across the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), local news this week was inundated with warnings of testing kit shortages in the West Bank and Gaza, the latter of which has seen a worrying spike in cases recently. 

The Palestinian Minister of Health Mai al-Kalia told the Voice of Palestine radio on Tuesday that Israel “obstructed” the entry of 100,000 COVID-19 testing swabs that were destined for the West Bank in coordination with the United Nations (UN). 

As a result, she said, the MOH will only have enough swabs to last them for three days, after which time the West Bank would run out of the testing kits. 

As of Tuesday, the total number of cases registered in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem stood at 46,614, though more than 70 percent of those cases were reported to be in recovery. 

While the West Bank has seen promising signs of recovery and lower rates of infection over the past few days, the situation in the Gaza Strip has continued to get worse. 

Health officials in Gaza sounded similar alarms over lack of testing kits over the weekend, as the number of confirmed cases in the besieged territory reached 2,445 on Tuesday, the vast majority of which are located in the Gaza City area. 

Dr. Ashraf al-Qidra, the spokesperson of the MOH in Gaza expressed fears over the lack of testing kits in Gaza, which he said could lead to “severe consequences” for health officials and their attempts to contain the virus in Gaza. 

Just yesterday, the World Health Organization supplied Gaza with 20,000 more swabs and laboratory extraction supplies — enough for 6,000 tests.

But by Tuesday afternoon, al-Qidra warned that supplies that had been donated by international organizations “will be finished in the coming hours, and the laboratory’s ability to conduct COVID-19 tests will be limited.”

On top of facing a consistent shortage of COVID-19 swabs and testing kits, health officials in Gaza are already operating in a flailing healthcare system, where hospitals on the verge of shutdowns and electricity shortages are a daily reality. 

According to officials in Gaza, there are 120 ventilators in all of Gaza, some of which are already in use by patients with chronic illnesses. 

Gaza is home to more than 2 million Palestinians, the majority of whom are refugees and on top of coronavirus lockdowns, are living in dire conditions due to Israel’s land, air, and sea blockade, which has devastated the enclave for more than 13 years. 

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