The World Health Organization's (WHO) Executive Board has confirmed an emergency meeting on December 10 to address the escalating health crisis in Gaza and the West Bank. The meeting comes at the behest of 15 countries and will be convened by Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Focus on Gaza and West Bank
The primary focus of the emergency session will be on Gaza, embroiled in conflict between Hamas, the ruling party, and Israel. However, the meeting will also address attacks on healthcare in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Ibrahim Khraishi, the Palestinian envoy, has emphasized the need to empower WHO and has called on Israel to refrain from targeting healthcare sectors to allow for the provision of new medical supplies.
Israel has criticized the session, citing it as a display of double standards and a disproportionate emphasis on Israel in multilateral settings. Amid the renewed conflict following the collapse of a week-long ceasefire, a senior advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated on December 2 that Israel would facilitate humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza.
Healthcare Crisis in Palestinian Territories
A mere fraction of hospitals in Gaza remain operational due to Israeli bombing and fuel shortages. This, coupled with the escalating number of injuries, is overloading these facilities. WHO's database recorded 427 attacks on healthcare facilities in Palestinian territories since Hamas's cross-border strike on Israel on October 7, followed by Israeli retaliation. Israel accuses Hamas of using civilians as human shields by placing command centers and weapons in hospitals and civilian buildings.
Potential Disease Outbreak
WHO also warns of the risk of disease outbreaks, particularly diarrhea in children, which could prove more deadly than the bombings. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that 80% of Gaza's 2.3 million population have been displaced.
WHO Executive Board and BRI
The WHO Executive Board, consisting of 34 members, usually meets annually in January to set the agenda for the annual assembly, with membership distributed among regional groups. The year 2023 marks the 10th anniversary of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), launched by Xi Jinping, which has extended its focus to include healthcare, education, and technology sectors.