Palestinians inspect a destroyed building after an Israeli air strike in the city of Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on March 4, 2024 (Shutterstock)

By Sharon Zhang / Truthout

There is currently about one infectious disease for every two people in Gaza, according to data released by the Gaza Health Ministry, as experts warn that the avoidance of a large epidemic so far has been “lucky.”

In a statement on Monday, Gaza health officials said that they have detected 1 million cases of infectious diseases in Gaza, a situation that the ministry called “extremely catastrophic.”

Because of Israel’s six month-long blockade of food, water, electricity, medicine and other basic hygienic needs, cases of infectious diseases like diarrheachickenpox, and respiratory, staph and urinary tract infections have been fiercely spreading across the region for months.

Just in December, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) and the health ministry reported that they had documented 360,000 cases of infectious diseases in shelters, though this was likely an undercount. Since then, that number has grown three-fold, over the course of just about three months.

According to Al Jazeera, “the ministry stressed that the Israeli occupation deliberately caused an unspeakable humanitarian and health catastrophe, which contributed to the spread of epidemics and infectious diseases.” Further in its statement, the ministry confirmed reports that Palestinians in northern Gaza are dying of starvation due to “famine that has exceeded global levels due to the scarcity of water and food,” per Al Jazeera.

The spread of disease is worsened by Israel’s systematic destruction of the Palestinian health system and depletion of any medical supplies in Gaza. Almost all drugs are scarce or nonexistent in the region, with even basic pain medication like acetaminophen reserved for extreme cases like severe burns or amputations.

According to the ministry, Israel has killed 364 health care workers amid its genocidal assault and arrested 269 others. Israeli forces have also destroyed 32 hospitals and 53 health centers, and targeted 126 ambulances with attacks, officials said.

Israel’s food blockade and starvation campaign has made Palestinians especially vulnerable to diseases, as their immune systems have been weakened by malnutrition; according to Al Jazeera, at least 16 children have died in northern Gaza due to malnutrition and dehydration.

This combination of malnutrition, dehydration and a lack of proper medical resources makes even basic illnesses potentially deadly.

Health experts are warning that the spring season could worsen the disease crisis dramatically. Communicable diseases like diarrhea and hepatitis A spread faster with warmer temperatures, especially since there is hardly any hygiene left to speak of — like working toilets and showers — and Palestinians are living in severely overcrowded areas due to Israel’s blockade.

Many experts are especially concerned about cholera — a bacterial disease spread through contaminated food and water which, if it took hold, would spread extremely quickly and have deadly results.

“Something like cholera, if introduced into the Gaza Strip, would result in a really massive epidemic for the reasons you can imagine: It would be extremely transmissible because people are living on top of each other, there’s not enough water, not enough sanitation,” warned Francesco Checchi, an epidemiologist specializing in diseases in crisis at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in an interview with Time.

“It’s the perfect environment for a massive epidemic to take hold,” Checci went on. “And perhaps we’ve just been a little lucky so far that one hasn’t.”

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Sharon Zhang

Sharon Zhang is a news writer at Truthout covering politics, climate and labor. Before coming to Truthout, Sharon had written stories for Pacific StandardThe New Republic, and more. She has a master’s degree in environmental studies. She can be found on Twitter: @zhang_sharon.

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