GENEVA: The World Health Organisation said it led missions to barely functioning hospitals in northern Gaza at the weekend, describing growing desperation and starving people stripping an aid truck of supplies.

The UN health agency and its partners delivered aid, including fuel, to the devastated Al-Shifa hospital, once Gaza’s biggest and most advanced medical facility, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said late Sunday on X, formerly Twitter.

What the participants in the December 23 mission witnessed was “rising desperation due to acute hunger,” Tedros said.

“Partners demand immediate scale-up of food and water to ensure population health and stability.”

166 killed in 24 hours in Gaza

The war broke out when Hamas attacked southern Israel on October 7 and killed about 1,140 people and seized 250 hostages, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

Israel has responded with a relentless military campaign that has killed more than 20,400 people, mostly women and children, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

At Al-Shifa, Tedros warned that “relentless hostilities and massive numbers of wounded people have brought its capacities to its knees”.

He voiced hope that Saturday’s delivery of 19,200 litres of generator fuel would help revive vital services at the hospital, which can currently only provide “the most basic of first aid”.

But, he stressed, “more will be needed”.

WHO chief decries ‘decimation’ of Gaza health system

‘Risk of famine’

The facility, which has suffered significant damage and seen its oxygen plant destroyed, is also providing refuge to around 50,000 displaced people, according to hospital authorities.

Sean Casey, a WHO Emergency Medical Teams coordinator who was on the mission, described overflowing surgery wards and being unable to evaluate al-Shifa’s operating theatres, “because there are people inside and they are not opening the door”.

At the same time, “everyone we speak to is hungry,” Casey said in a video shot inside Al-Shifa, with crowds of displaced people, mainly children, milling in the background.

UN urges more Gaza aid, UN chief says Israel creating distribution ‘obstacles’

“There’s the risk of famine.”

Illustrating the desperate situation, people grabbed food aid off one of the trucks en route for the hospital.

“Amid dire food shortages, the search for food is forcing people into horrible states of hunger and leading some – out of desperation – to take supplies from delivery trucks,” Tedros said.

“I can only imagine the torment that would drive people to such lengths.”

The WHO chief warned that the dire situation at Al-Shifa was “a microcosm of the nightmare playing out across Gaza, where drastic shortages of medicines, food, power, water and - above all - safety imperil the population”.

Saturday’s joint mission also went to the NGO-run Patient Friends Hospital, which provides maternity, trauma and emergency care, but lacks specialised surgeons, intensive care staff, antibiotics and basic relief medications, WHO said.

The teams also visited the Al-Sahaba and Al-Helou maternity hospitals, which jointly assist with up to 35 deliveries a day, while facing shortages of fuel, food, water, oxygen, antibiotics and anesthesia.

“Hospitals should be places for care and recovery, not danger and unrelenting suffering,” Tedros said.

He reiterated his call for a ceasefire, and stressed the need for “sustained humanitarian access”.

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