Gaza has become a ‘death zone’, warns UN health chief


An “inhumane” health and humanitarian situation now prevails across Gaza with conditions continuing to deteriorate, the head of the UN World Health Organization warned on Wednesday.

“Gaza has become a death zone,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General told correspondents at a press briefing in Geneva.

“Much of the territory has been destroyed. More than 29,000 people are dead; many more are missing, presumed dead; and many, many more are injured,” he added.

Across the war-ravaged Gaza Strip, severe malnutrition has shot up dramatically since the start of the war on 7 October, from under one per cent of the population, to over 15 per cent in some areas.

“This figure will rise the longer the war goes on and supplies [are] interrupted,” Tedros said, expressing deep concern that agencies such as the World Food Programme (WFP) are unable to access the north.

WFP suspended its aid deliveries there due to lack of security for both humanitarian personnel and those seeking assistance.

Medical charity attacked

The war has taken a severe toll on aid workers, with hundreds reported killed.

A Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) shelter was shelled Tuesday night (local time), injuring staff and killing members of their family. 

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, said he was appalled by the attack, adding that he stood with them in their grief.

“Humanitarians are putting their lives on the line. Like all civilians, they must be protected,” he added, in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

‘What world do we live in’

WHO chief Tedros reiterated the grave risks for humanitarians and the need to ensure they are protected.

“What type of world do we live when people cannot get food and water, and when people who cannot even walk are unable to receive care?”, he lamented.

“What type of world do we live in when health workers are at risk of being bombed as they carry out their life saving work [and] hospitals must close because there is no more power or medicines to help save patients?”

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He underscored the need for an immediate ceasefire, for hostages to be released, the guns to fall silent, and unfettered humanitarian access.

“Humanity must prevail,” Tedros said.

Hospital evacuations

Over the past three days the UN health agency and partners carried out several emergency missions to the Nasser medical complex in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, to evacuate critically ill patients, including children.

“With the intensive care units no longer working, WHO helped move patients, many of whom cannot even walk,” Tedros said.

Around 130 sick and injured patients and at least 15 doctors and nurses remain in the hospital, amidst ongoing Israeli military operations, no electricity and running water and dwindling lifesaving medical supplies.

Implement ‘long overdue’ measures

Also on Wednesday, UN independent human rights experts called on Israel to urgently implement an immediate ceasefire and concrete humanitarian measures, with a particular focus on the needs of Palestinian women and girls.

Citing the International Court of Justice (ICJ)’s 26 January ruling, the experts underscored the pressing issues of disrupted schooling, destruction of homes, limited access to healthcare and heightened risks faced by women and girls in Gaza and the West Bank, including gender-based violence.

With increasingly limited access to treatment, the experts demanded an end to Israeli forces’ attacks on hospitals, emphasizing the need for gender-responsive measures to address the urgent needs of the vulnerable.

They specifically called for the establishment of a field hospital, facilitation of aid delivery, prioritization of menstrual hygiene products, building additional shelters and schools and providing safe spaces for survivors of gender-based violence.

“Implementing these measures would be a long overdue demonstration that Israel cares about the protection of civilians and respects their human rights,” they said.

Appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor key human rights issues, the experts are independent of the UN or any government, serve in their individual capacities and draw no salary for their work.

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