Doctors at Al-Awda Hospital in northern Gaza were once again delivering babies and saving lives against the odds amid incredibly challenging conditions after a siege of the facility ended.
For nearly three weeks in December, no one was able to enter or leave the hospital, which is run by ActionAid’s partner Al-Awda, after it was surrounded by snipers. All services were stopped as 170 people trapped inside – staff, patients, and their relatives – fought to survive on increasingly dwindling food and water supplies. Dr. Adnan Radi, head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Al-Awda Hospital, said that six healthcare workers died in the final days of the siege. At the same time, pregnant women were killed while attempting to access the hospital.
In a voice note update, Dr. Adnan Radi said:
There were three doctors and one nurse, and two workers [who] were killed inside the hospital by [snipers] in the last few days of the siege. We were put under closed siege for more than 20 days. Many pregnant women [were] killed around the hospital, while they [were] trying to reach the hospital [while] in labor, and they were killed, [shot] by the [snipers] around the hospital.
Dr. Ahmed Muhanna, manager of Al-Awda, arrested and missing for over a month
During the siege, staff was detained by the Israeli military before being released. However, the manager of the hospital – Dr Ahmed Muhanna – who was arrested and taken away, is still being held, his whereabouts unknown. We are extremely concerned for his safety and are publicly advocating for his immediate release. Medical professionals have a protected status under international humanitarian law, which must be respected.
Severe shortages of personnel and supplies threaten maternity services at Al-Awda
Following the siege’s end, doctors at Al-Awda have again resumed treating patients despite a severe shortage of medical supplies, fuel, food, and water, which makes their work almost impossible. As one of only four hospitals partially functioning in the north of Gaza – and the sole facility able to provide maternity services in the north – it is a lifeline for thousands of desperate people, particularly pregnant women in the region.
On January 7th, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it had called off a planned mission to bring medical supplies to Al-Awda and other hospitals in the north for the fourth time after failing to receive safety guarantees. It has now been almost two weeks since the agency was last able to reach northern Gaza, which means that much needed life-saving supplies are being withheld by interventions of the Israeli military.
In his voice note, Dr. Radi spoke about the huge challenges facing staff working at the hospital:
We are facing many obstacles… The first is the safety of the hospital and the team in the hospital. There are severe shortages of specialists and consultants, as most of the consultants and specialists in obstetrics and gynecology have evacuated to Rafah and Khan Younis. Anti-D, Clexane, antibiotics, and most emergency drugs in obstetrics are not available in the hospital.
Most of our surgery [is] done under headlights. There is no electricity at all. Al-Awda Hospital is the only hospital that is still [providing] maternity services in the north. Many patients reach [us] with severe postpartum hemorrhage as they delivered on the way to the hospital or in the evacuated areas, in schools, and other areas in Jabalia or Gaza. Many of them…need[ed] blood transfusion[s], which [are] not available at the hospital in this condition.
ActionAid continues to urgently call for a ceasefire and humanitarian aid
As of the end of December, 600 people have been killed in 294 attacks on healthcare facilities in Gaza since October 7, according to WHO. On January 4th, several people were killed during a third day of airstrikes in the vicinity of the Al Amal Hospital in Khan Younis, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.
Meanwhile, two international NGOs, Medical Aid For Palestinians (MAP) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC), said their medical teams have had to cease operations at Al Aqsa Hospital, the last functioning hospital in the middle area of Gaza, due to increased military activity around the facility. ActionAid is appalled by the continued attacks on hospitals across Gaza, which amount to a potential breach of international humanitarian law. Hospitals are safe havens and should never, ever be targeted.
Riham Jafari, Advocacy and Communications Coordinator at ActionAid Palestine, said:
It is incredible to see that Al-Awda Hospital is once again able to provide desperately needed life-saving care to pregnant women and patients in the north of Gaza. This is purely down to the heroic bravery and selflessness of staff at the hospital who continue to work despite immense danger to themselves and amid harrowing conditions.
It is horrific to think that, despite the best efforts of staff, women are having to give birth without crucial drugs and painkillers. No woman should ever be denied their fundamental right to adequate maternity care. Yet, as this crisis enters its fourth month, this is the reality for the estimated 180 women giving birth in Gaza every single day.
Life-saving aid must be allowed to reach Al-Awda and other hospitals in the north safely and quickly, yet if the bombs keep falling, this will amount to little more than a sticking plaster. We will not stop calling for a permanent and immediate ceasefire to stop the senseless killing of civilians, allow vital aid to enter at scale, and save Gaza’s healthcare system from total collapse.