25 Preterm Babies in a Rafah Hospital Face Immediate Risk of Dying Amid Israeli Incursion

"If fuel does not enter immediately, the lights will turn off. Generators will stop running. Incubators will fail. Babies will die,” one doctor said.

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25 Preterm Babies in a Rafah Hospital Face Immediate Risk of Dying Amid Israeli Incursion

Doctors in Rafah, the southernmost part of Gaza where over 1 million displaced Palestinians have fled, are raising alarm over the impact Israel’s expected military escalation will have on 25 preterm babies in incubators at Emirate Maternity Hospital. Glia, a medical aid group that currently has eight personnel at Emirate, said in a dispatch shared with Jezebel on Monday that no fuel has entered Gaza since May 6; the hospital has enough fuel for about 48 hours until its reserves run out. (On May 9, the United Nations said that no aid or fuel had been able to enter Gaza from Rafah since Israeli forces took control of the border crossing last week.)

“If fuel does not enter immediately, the lights will turn off. Generators will stop running. Incubators will fail. Babies will die,” said Dr. Dorotea Gucciardo, a doctor with Glia currently stationed at Emirate. The 25 babies “are at immediate risk if these incubators are shut off.”

Al Jazeera reported that, as of early Monday, Israeli forces ordered the medical staff at Kuwaiti Hospital, also in Rafah, to evacuate, as they continue to increase their attacks on the area. Last week, a UNICEF spokesperson said there is “nowhere safe on the Gaza strip to go to,” and that “Rafah is a city of children,” with 600,000 kids “caught in the crosshairs” of war.

Since the start of Israel’s assault on Gaza in October, the United Nations estimates that over 14,500 children have been killed; more than 35,000 Palestinians of all ages have died due to Israeli bombs and gunfire. The full scale of casualties, including death from malnutrition and illness, is not yet known. 

Dr. Tarek Loubani, the head of Glia’s medical programs, and Gucciardo pleaded with the international community to care about the fate of the preterm babies being kept alive by incubators (and thus, fuel). In a statement to Jezebel, Loubani referenced four incubated babies at al-Nasr Children’s Hospital who were found dead and decomposing (“eaten by worms [and] blackened by mold,” according to the Washington Post) in December, after Israel forced hospital staff to flee, assuring them the babies would be cared for. “The global community cannot allow this to happen again,” Gucciardo said.

Last month, UNICEF spokesperson Tess Ingram told Jezebel that since October, Emirate hospital has gone from delivering 18 babies per day to 75. (A nurse volunteering there told Mother Jones last week that “there’s up to 15 C-sections that happen a day, up to 70 vaginal deliveries that happen a day.”) Ingram told Jezebel that, according to one Emirate doctor, three preterm babies or babies with birth defects or other diseases die each day; all are preventable deaths that Emirate is simply “unable to treat” due to “lack of specialists, specialist equipment, lack of resources” due to the war.

Doctors at Emirate also told Ingram that since the start of the war, babies have been born much earlier and much less healthy. Across Gaza, there have been several cases of preterm babies being delivered via emergency C-section as their mothers died of wounds from Israeli airstrikes and attacks. In late April, one baby was born via emergency C-section after her entire family was killed; she died days later. For preterm babies who do live, lack of aid, fuel shortages, and Israel’s continued attacks on hospitals mean their young lives are under constant threat. 

Emirate—which has just 40 beds—is now admitting 400 patients each day, Ingram said. Even before Israeli forces launched their latest offensive on Rafah, the hospital’s ability to care for pregnant people and newborns was already incredibly strained: Ingram reported that pregnant women were two to a bed and released within three hours of giving birth, typically to overcrowded shelters where disease and infection are rampant. The hospital estimated that the rate of miscarriages it is treating has doubled since October.

An estimated 37 mothers are killed by Israeli forces every day, according to data the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) shared in March. Gaza’s health ministry reported in February that 70% of those killed have been women and children.

The health ministry warned on Monday morning that Gaza’s entire health care system could collapse within “a few hours.” Already, as of May 8, the World Health Organization reported that just 12 out of Palestine’s 36 hospitals remain partially functional, serving over 2 million people who are living through constant bombardment and the rapid spread of infectious disease. 

“Because the Israeli government has now blocked any medical evacuations of injured children and babies, our hands are tied,” said a midwife named Bridget, who traveled to Gaza from San Francisco to volunteer at Emirate with Glia.

Even if the hospital can access enough fuel to sustain the 25 incubated babies, Loubani warned that “these newborns’ futures are bleak” due to “Israel’s incursion of Rafah, [which] puts their lives at incredible risk.” 

“Newborns will die if the Israeli attacks continue,” he said.

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