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GENEVA: The war between Israel and Hamas is having a catastrophic impact on health in the Gaza Strip, the head of the World Health Organization said Sunday.

The UN health agency called a special session of the WHO executive board to discuss the health conditions in the Palestinian territories, with WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus describing a collapsing system with medics facing an “impossible” job.

“The impact of the conflict on health is catastrophic,” Tedros said in his opening remarks to the meeting in Geneva.

“As more and more people move to a smaller and smaller area, overcrowding, combined with the lack of adequate food, water, shelter and sanitation, are creating the ideal conditions for disease to spread,” he said.

Tedros said that there were worrying signs of epidemic diseases and the risk was expected to worsen with the deteriorating situation and approaching winter conditions.

“Gaza’s health system is on its knees and collapsing,” Tedros said, with only 14 out of 36 hospitals functioning with any capacity at all, and of them, only two are in the north of the coastal territory.

Only 1,400 hospital beds out of an original 3,500 are still available, while the two major hospitals in southern Gaza are operating at three times their bed capacity, running out of supplies and sheltering thousands of displaced people, Tedros added.

Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas after the group’s unprecedented attacks on October 7, when its fighters broke through Gaza’s militarised border, killed about 1,200 people and seized hostages, according to Israeli officials.

Situation in Gaza ‘spiralling out of control’: WHO chief

The fighting has killed at least 17,700 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Tedros said that since October 7, the WHO had verified more than 449 attacks on healthcare in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, and 60 attacks on healthcare in Israel.

The WHO does not attribute blame for the recorded attacks.

“The work of the health workers is impossible and they are directly in the firing line,” he said.

“In summary, health needs have increased dramatically and the capacity of the health system has been reduced to one third of what it was.

“WHO is on the ground in Gaza to support health workers who are physically and mentally exhausted, and are doing their best in unimaginable conditions.”

“There is no health without peace, and no peace without health,” Tedros concluded.

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