Emergency WHO Board Meeting Called to Address Health Crisis in Gaza

By Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) – The World Health Organization is set to hold an extraordinary session on Dec. 10 to address the dire health situation in Gaza and the West Bank amid the ongoing conflict. The Palestinian representative is advocating for increased medical assistance and the entry of foreign healthcare professionals into the region.

The WHO has confirmed that it has received a request from 15 countries to convene the emergency session, which will be chaired by Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in consultation with the Qatari chair.

The Palestinian ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Ibrahim Khraishi, emphasized that the meeting will primarily focus on the situation in Gaza, where the health sector has been severely impacted by the conflict between Hamas and Israel. He also expressed concern about the attacks on the healthcare infrastructure in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. “We want to empower the WHO and urge the Israeli side not to target the medical sector. We need to ensure the availability of essential medical supplies,” he stated, revealing that a formal motion is being formulated by the diplomatic mission for review by the board.

Khraishi also disclosed plans to mobilize additional healthcare professionals from around the world, as many countries have expressed willingness to provide support. While the “Occupied Palestinian Territory” holds observer status within the WHO, it wields influence in the organization through its allies.

Israel has criticized the session, denouncing it as an example of biased focus on Israel in international forums. Meanwhile, the healthcare situation in Gaza remains critical, with only a fraction of hospitals operational due to Israeli airstrikes and fuel shortages, and an overwhelming influx of new patients.

According to a WHO database, there have been 427 attacks on healthcare facilities in Palestinian territories since the escalation of hostilities, without attributing responsibility for these attacks. Israel has accused Hamas of using civilians as human shields by deploying command centers and weapons in hospitals and other civilian structures.

In response to the escalating crisis, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza’s civilians.

The WHO has also issued warnings about the potential spread of disease in Gaza, which could result in more casualties than the bombings. Cases of diarrhoea among children have surged to about 100 times normal levels, and approximately 80% of Gaza’s 2.3 million population have been displaced from their homes, according to the U.N. humanitarian agency OCHA.

The WHO’s executive board, comprised of 34 members, typically meets every January to set the agenda for its annual assembly. Members are drawn from regional groups, with the United States, Qatar, Senegal, Australia, and China among the seat holders.

(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Matthias Williams and Alison Williams)


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