Al Shifa Hospital and the fate of the premature newborns

17 November 2023

As the war on Gaza continues, world attention has shifted to the fate of the 36 premature babies trapped in the Al Shifa Hospital along with 7,000 patients, the injured and displaced people.

Below is a transcript from Dr Muhammed Abu Salmiya, Hospital Director from inside the Al Shifa Hospital on the phone line through a translator, as he describes conditions for 7,000 people - premature babies, patients, medics and other civilians seeking shelter - trapped in Gaza's largest hospital, which remains cut off from water, electricity and communications.

We are carrying out surgical operations without anaesthetic or oxygen. We are forced to leave patients to die. We are helpless. We cannot perform any surgical operations.  The least we can do is to give intravenous painkillers to let those victims die in peace. We are helpless, we are doing all we can, but we ran out of fuel, medical supplies, even food and water. 

Now, the premature newborn babies, many of them have died; we lost many of the premature newborn babies in the incubators, especially (when) we ran out of oxygen. Those newborn babies required certain attention: a very specific temperature, oxygen supply, and even certain medical supplies that we ran out of. 

Now those premature newborn babies are out of nutrition, let alone that they were born with less weight, they became dehydrated, lost weight and with every passing minute, we are losing a newborn baby. We do not even think that those small, frail bodies can endure especially as they were already born less in weight. They ranged between 900g to 1200g, and were born [two months premature]. 

We are doing all we can to attend to the victims and patients already in the hospital. We lost all those who were in the intensive care unit, and now we are struggling to help the newborn babies to survive. 

We are not in need of incubators. We already have incubators in the hospital. We are out of fuel that would generate electricity, so we ran out of electricity. We need electricity to operate these incubators. We must restore those newborn babies into the incubators as soon as possible. Even if [they] provide the incubators, they are … nothing but a scrap piece of metal. We need power in order to be able to operate these incubators. 

We do not have enough space in the morgue. We do not have any refrigerator trucks to freeze them. We were forced to dig graves within the hospital compound and bury those dead bodies...

We are losing patients, we are under siege, we are left without power, medical supplies, food or water. What we need now is to have some fuel to have power to save those in the intensive care unit or the newborn babies. 

The hospital is now nothing but a mass grave for 7,000 people. Medical crews, patients, victims and other displaced persons who took refuge in the hospital. 

The newborn babies require immediate attention, hydration, milk, even IV intervention, but we are running out of supplies, let alone the displaced persons inside the hospital, are already patients, many of them have chronic disease, eg high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes they require attention. 

Even displaced persons left inside the hospital are also under threat of death simply because they are denied their own medications. We are left with no power, food, or water. With every passing minute we are losing a life. Overnight, we lost 22 persons. 

For the past 3 days, the hospital has been kept under siege. We have lost more than 55 persons, and all those are life-loving people, innocent people, children, women, medical crews, and innocent displaced persons.  Israeli Forces are stationed inside the hospital, denying us every possible means of assistance. They are not even allowing us to leave. 

We have tried to reach any of the international aid organisations to at least help the newborn babies and allow their exit from this hospital to get attention somewhere for the past seven days. I spoke to many international organisations – mainly the Red Cross – that the 36 newborn babies still alive need immediate attention. However, no one moved a finger, and none of the health organisations have leant any assistance. We were abandoned by the whole world, health organisations, and humanitarian relief organisations. We are trying to save lives, but we are helpless. Many of these organisations have initiated projects that were up and running inside the Al Shifa hospital. But we are abandoned by the whole world. 

What we are appealing to the whole world is to have some fuel to restore the generators in order to be able to save lives. This is a hospital, a medical facility, we have nothing to do with the military or militants. 

After three days of siege, we as medical staff … will continue to fulfil our duties as doctors and not abandon our fellow Gazans. Now, we are receiving more victims and injured persons. We are already over-packed. The influx of victims and patients is indescribable. All those who need surgical operations will be left to die. Babies, children, women. We are left with nothing. No more medical supplies. However, we are preparing for the worst. We have nothing more to fear.  We are preparing for death. 

All of North Gaza has been annihilated and ... the hospitals are out of operation. This is a war crime. It is unprecedented in the history of humanity - even in the dark ages.

(note: as the communication lines are down it was not clear from the phone call exactly how many babies are still alive).



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