WHO cancels sixth aid mission to Gaza over security concerns

WHO cancels sixth aid mission to Gaza over security concerns

LONDON/GENEVA (Reuters): The World Health Organization cancelled another planned medical aid mission to Gaza on Wednesday over security concerns, the sixth such cancellation in two weeks, and sounded a fresh alarm over the spread of infectious disease there.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was the sixth mission to northern Gaza cancelled by the UN agency because requests to visit had not been approved or assurances over security provided since its last visit, on 26 December.

“Intense bombardment, restrictions on movement, fuel shortage and interrupted communications make it impossible for WHO and our partners to reach those in need,” he told a virtual press conference from Geneva. “We call on Israel to approve requests by WHO and other partners to deliver humanitarian aid.”

The Israeli offensive launched in the wake of a deadly rampage by Hamas in southern Israel on Oct. 7 has displaced most of Gaza’s 2.3 million population, left many homes and civilian infrastructure in ruins, and caused acute shortages of food, water and medicine. Fighting has intensified recently despite a pledge this week to scale down the war.

The WHO said on Wednesday only 15 hospitals in Gaza remain functional, even partially. The deteriorating conditions are also a perfect breeding ground for infectious disease, the agency said. For example, the number of diarrhea cases among children under 5 was 20 times higher in November 2023 compared to the average of the previous year, said Richard Peeperkorn, WHO representative in Gaza.

He added that he was hopeful a WHO mission planned for Thursday to northern Gaza could go ahead. But he added that about 16 or 17 of 21 planned missions from the wider UN have already been cancelled so far this month.

Mike Ryan, WHO emergencies director, said it would be a “gargantuan” task to restore the public health system in Gaza even with a ceasefire.