British-Palestinian surgeon: Gaza war injuries an ‘endemic disease’

LONDON: Injuries inflicted during Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip have become an “endemic disease,” a high-profile British-Palestinian surgeon has warned.
Ghassan Abu-Sittah, a reconstructive surgeon, has made regular trips to Gaza since the 1980s to treat wounded Palestinians.
He returned to the war-torn territory last week amid renewed Israeli-Palestinian fighting. The 11-day conflict left more than 250 people dead in Gaza and 13 in Israel.
But the real toll is reflected in survivors who must live with life-changing injuries, Abu-Sittah warned. “War injuries are now something akin to an endemic disease in Gaza,” he told the Daily Telegraph.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said almost 2,000 Palestinians were injured in the conflict, including more than 600 children and 400 women.
It added that about 10 percent of those injured could suffer from long-term disabilities that require extensive rehabilitation.
Previous flare-ups in Gaza have inflicted war-related disabilities on 5-10 percent of the entire population.
Abu-Sittah said he now commonly treats people who have been injured in multiple wars, and his current trip mostly involved treating crush injuries.
In past rounds of violence, the most common injuries were gunshot and shrapnel wounds, and the same surnames “keep appearing in operating rooms,” he said.
“Most people were injured in their homes. We have whole families in different rooms in the hospital,” he added.
“Most of the areas targeted (by Israeli airstrikes) were urban areas in the center of Gaza. They weren’t rural peripheral communities.”
Gaza requires highly skilled specialist surgeons who are not found in typical health systems, due to the complex injuries inflicted in the latest violence.
“It has turned the public health pyramid on its head,” said Abu-Sittah. “You need surgeons in a number disproportionate to the 2 million people who live in Gaza.”
The 51-year-old surgeon has volunteered in conflict zones since the 1980s, visiting Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza.
His expertise in blast-related injuries led him to author several books on the subject and conduct research for Imperial College London.
Abu-Sittah’s family originally hail from Gaza, where they were refugees. He grew up in Kuwait before moving to the UK.
Treating wounded children is the most difficult part of his job, he said, and it “is what keeps me coming back to Gaza.”
Referring to his three children, he added: “Dealing with wounded children becomes much more taxing once you’ve had your own. With kids (in Gaza), you patch them up now so they’ll be injured in the next war.”

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