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Hunger, bombs and perseverance: What this US doctor saw in Gaza as Israel invaded Rafah – Prism

Dr Usman Shah, a Pakistan-origin American doctor, visited Gaza earlier this month as a part of a humanitarian mission and has promised to go back.

Dr Usman Shah, a medical doctor with 10 years of experience, was quite familiar with the sight of blood, but not the sounds of bombs. In Gaza, where bombardment has continued for more than seven months, he found himself stopping in his tracks and frantically looking around any time he heard an explosion. The children of Gaza, he recalled, were unfazed.

“During my rounds of the hospital, I saw several children playing outside in camps … the echo of bombs always jolted me. But these kids kept playing as if the sound of explosions was second nature to them,” he told

Dr Shah, a pulmonary and critical care expert, was in Gaza as part of a medical team for nearly three weeks, but he saw more children inside the hospital with missing limbs than outside playing in the rubble.

“There were so many children, most under the age of six, coming in with burns from the bombings,” he said. “So many of them had over 60 per cent burns and despite tireless efforts, we couldn’t save them from the infections.”

The doctor particularly remembers three children, all under the age of five, who were brought to the hospital with burn injuries. Two of them were orphans. “The mother of the third child, a girl, was waiting outside as we tried to resuscitate the children,” he recalled.

None of them survived.

Some of the children Dr Shah treated had half their bodies missing. “Seeing that, especially when it is children, is very traumatising,” he said, adding that the healthcare system was unable to handle such complexity of patients because they all came together and in multiple numbers.

Children account for more than one in three of the 36,550 people killed in Israel’s seven-month-long assault on Gaza, according to the Palestinian health ministry. Thousands more, both young and elderly, have suffered severe injuries, which have often times required amputations.

warned of a “full-blown” famine in the enclave. Around 30pc children below the age of two are reported to be acutely malnourished while 70pc of the population in northern Gaza is facing “catastrophic hunger”, according to the United Nations.

“When I met Palestinian doctors at the hospital, I immediately noticed how skinny and malnourished they were. This was the staff, not the patients … you could see their cheekbones, their arms had no muscle, their eyes were sunken.

“You could tell they had lost a lot of weight in a glance as their scrubs won’t fit anymore,” he told

Displaced Gazans set up tents outside the European General Hospital.

In his conversations with fellow Palestinian doctors and nurses over the weeks, Dr Shah found that they had been living on one meal a day. On average, a person should be consuming around 2,000 calories in a day, but the doctor suspected that Gazans were just getting around 400 to 800 calories.

Many members of the visiting team too lost around 10 to 15 pounds during their three weeks in Gaza.

For those outside the corridors of the hospital, the situation was much worse.

The families of most of the local doctors and nurses were living in camps outside the hospital, the American doctor said. “The sewage system there was horrible … they didn’t have running water or functional washrooms. A single bathroom was shared by around 500 people.”

“You could smell sewage around the tent area, which was very close to their water pump. It is likely that the water was infected,” Shah said, adding that these sanitary conditions were giving rise to cases of Hepatitis A.

After the Israeli assault on the Rafah crossing on May 7, humanitarian aid coming into the Strip was blocked. Till the time of Dr Shah’s departure on May 17, it had not been resumed.

“The aid on the US-built pier is not reaching to the people in Gaza. People are dying of starvation, lack of equipment, lack of sanitation … there is so much death and destruction we are seeing due to the lack of humanitarian aid.

“As a doctor, I believe we can bring a lot of surgical equipment — but the most important thing they need is clean water and nutrition because their immune systems are very weak. Without clean water they will be vulnerable to infections and dehydration,” Dr Shah stressed.

He warned that the mortality numbers will double, if not triple, if the humanitarian corridors are not opened.

All photos provided by Dr Usman Shah

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