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Doctors say patients in Gaza are dying because medical supplies are limited

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

With Israeli tanks in Rafah and Palestinians trying to figure out where to flee for safety, one of the last functioning hospitals is struggling to stay open with little fuel and supplies. An American medical team is on the ground at Gaza's European hospital, the last medical facility able to treat trauma. That team includes Dr. Mahmoud Saba (ph). He's from Texas and sent us a voice notes saying his patients are dying because of the lack of supplies.

MAHMOUD SABA: Seeing these types of deaths that are preventable in America is heartbreaking because you put your efforts into saving someone's life and sincerely believe that you would save his life or her life, but it's like a shock when they die because you have nothing to help them with.

FADEL: Now, with border crossings closed by Israel, dR. Saba and his team of some 22 Americans and several other nationalities say they're stuck in Gaza and unable to exit safely. This morning, we turn to another American doctor who recently returned from that same hospital. Dr. Ismail Mehr chairs IMANA Medical Relief, which is part of the Islamic Medical Association of North America. Dr. Mehr, welcome.

ISMAIL MEHR: Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So if you could start by telling me what you saw at the hospital.

MEHR: You know, European ground hospital - I spent nine days there. And, you know, the first thing that you see is, when I was there from April 15 to the 24, is - you know, at that time, there was 30,000 people living inside and outside the hospital. And first thing that you see, the first thing that I recall is the number of amputees. Everyone and anyone has lost a leg or both limbs from children to adults. And you see doctors and physicians and colleagues who are the local, you know, Palestinians, who are just amazing individuals who have worked nonstop for the last 200- plus days and had been working. And I'm in touch with them still, you know, my friends and colleagues there.

But now with the invasion of Rafah, they've had to leave. They've had to go relocate their families. I think that's important. The doctors, the staff, the technicians, the nurses - they're all internally displaced people themselves. They've all been displaced from various parts of Gaza and the strip, and their families, their loved ones, the ones that have survived so far are also living in tents and in these, you know, encampments. And now they've had to, you know, take their families and stabilize their lives right now as much as they can.

FADEL: What does that mean, though, for patients? I mean, what are you hearing from staff on the ground right now about the hospital and whether it's still functioning?

MEHR: Well, I'm in touch. You know, FAJR Scientific has a team there from the United States and PAMA, the Palestinian American Medical Association. And I'm familiar with both of them, and I know both their CEOs. And, you know, I've had conversations, and you know, they were sharing that the local staff, it's not - there's very, very few local physicians and team members there. I've been in touch with doctors and residents that I know at EGH, and, you know, they were sharing that they had to go, or so and so had to go and get their families to safer ground, which is sort of an oxymoron because I don't know what is safe in Gaza. You know, it's - so what it means for patient care is there's not many doctors. There's not many, you know, nurses and technicians in that facility. The American teams there, you know - and they have a few other international members - are it right now.

FADEL: And they're stuck. As I said earlier, right now, the borders are closed. They haven't been able to get safe crossing. How risky was your trip and the trip of your colleagues that are on the ground right now?

MEHR: You know, I think you go into - you know, I've been in several conflict zones myself personally with IMANA. You go in. You have to go in with a mindset, knowing that there's a possibility you don't come back. And I think that's easy to say. Not everyone can be mentally prepared for that, and it's easier to say, like I said, but, you know, conflict medicine is a different beast.

And, you know, when we were there, we were - you know, Rafah was not fully invaded, but there was bombings every night. And you - very quickly, you learn to know what's the difference between a missile from a drone, a jet, what's artillery fire. And like clockwork, when the hits would happen, we knew within 30 minutes to be at European Gaza Hospital's emergency room, and we lived on campus, and we're there because the mass casualties were coming in. And right now at this moment, it's around the clock, you know, that this is going on.

FADEL: Did you have what you needed to treat patients? How did you get supplies?

MEHR: We brought in with us a tremendous amount of supplies. And again, no, I think for context, this is now two weeks ago. You know, the active invasion in terms of Rafah was just sort of getting planned. From my discussions with some of the American teams there, as well as my local friends and colleagues, everything has been exhausted now. I mean, when I was there, there was supplies. I wouldn't say abundant and wouldn't say everything I needed, but we were able to make - you know, you make do.

But once you - the healthcare system and the European Gaza hospital's already bursting, if not, I would say, is actually bursted at the seams, and now you throw on a mass invasion and mass casualties around the clock. You know, literally, there's patients dying on the floors and dying due to the lack of supplies. And I think it's also important to note is everyone focuses on the deaths from the bombings and the strikes. Every day I myself pronounce people dead from very routine medical conditions such as a grandmother with a urinary tract infection, the middle-aged man who dies from his diabetes because he doesn't have access to his medicines.

And, you know, I've been committed to being a voice for those unaccounted for that are forgotten because it's not due to bombings and missiles and drones. But these people - there's far more dying every day when I was there at the time from normal, preventable medical issues.

FADEL: Is there any specific case that has stayed with you now that you are back home in a safe place?

MEHR: Yes. Hala (ph) was a 3-year-old girl who had severe burns, and we were able to work with HEAL Palestine and Steve Sosebee and coordinate her transfer to the United States to Shriners in Boston. And she passed away on Wednesday because Rafah was invaded, and the borders closed. You know, and I found that out on Friday, and it was just a tough day emotionally because she was so close yet so far.

FADEL: I'm so sorry.

MEHR: And Hala is one of thousands.

FADEL: Dr. Ismail Mehr with IMANA Medical Relief. Thank you.

MEHR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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