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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Premature babies are evacuated from embattled hospital in Gaza

By Vivian Yee

Thirty-one premature babies in extremely critical condition were evacuated from the embattled Shifa Hospital, in northern Gaza Strip, on Sunday and taken to another hospital in the enclave’s south, the Palestine Red Crescent Society and the World Health Organization said on social media.

Emergency medical workers from the Red Crescent and WHO, a United Nations agency, took the infants by ambulance to Al-Helal Emirati Maternity Hospital in Rafah, where they were receiving urgent care.

The conditions of the babies had been “rapidly deteriorating,” according to UNICEF, which said it participated in the “extremely dangerous” evacuation effort. It said the babies had been moved in temperature-controlled incubators to Al-Helal, where they were being stabilized and cared for in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit.

Officials in Gaza and Egypt have said the babies will be transported over the border to Egypt for treatment, although the timing was unclear. On Sunday, the Gaza Health Ministry published a list of the 31 infant evacuees and issued a call for their families to go to the hospital to identify them, adding that the parents might be able to join the babies in Egypt. UNICEF said it was helping to identify and register the babies in order to assist with family reunifications.

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, posted a photo on X, formerly Twitter, of a staff member in a blue U.N. helmet and bulletproof vest scooping up a tiny infant. The babies, along with six health care workers and 10 family members of hospital employees, were evacuated “under extremely intense and high-risk security conditions,” he wrote.

As Israel’s push to seize Shifa Hospital set off a struggle to survive there in recent days, doctors and health officials warned that nearly 40 premature babies in incubators in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit were at particular risk of dying. Some of them had been born to mothers who had been killed in airstrikes or who died shortly after giving birth, doctors at Shifa have said. Some were the only survivors in their families.

Medical workers placed the babies together on beds and hoped for the best as fuel to power the incubators — as well as dialysis machines, ventilators and other lifesaving equipment — dwindled.

Since Nov. 11, at least 40 patients, including at least four premature babies, have died at Shifa because of power outages, the United Nations said Saturday, citing hospital officials.

Fighting has raged at and around Shifa for more than a week. More than 2,500 civilians, patients and staff members left the facility Saturday after receiving an evacuation order from the Israeli military, WHO said in a statement. The agency called the hospital a “death zone.”

But WHO and health officials in the south have warned that the hospitals there are already stretched far too thin to accommodate new patients evacuating from Shifa and other hospitals in the north.

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