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Premature babies evacuated from Gaza and to a hospital in Egypt during a temporary ceasefire being fed. Alamy Stock Photo
Doctor speaks out

'We are hearing horrific reports': Irish paediatricians plan Gaza mission to bring lifesaving aid

An Irish-Palestinian doctor has decried the ‘silence’ of the world’s paediatric organisations on the plight of infants in Gaza.

A GROUP OF Irish paediatricians are raising funds to travel to Gaza to deliver life-saving aid and equipment for newborn babies as soon as it is safe to do so. 

The Gaza Paediatric Care Initiative (GPCI) is made up of ten experienced healthcare workers, who are trying to bring awareness to the plight of babies in the Gaza Strip, as Israel’s bombardment of the region continues despite global pressure for a ceasefire to be agreed. 

Dr Afif EL Khuffash from the Rotunda hospital is the only Palestinian in the group. His father was born in the West Bank, but could not re-enter the country after going to study abroad, due to the 1967 war. Khuffash has spent his life in Kuwait and Ireland as a result. 

He said that he and the other doctors, including Dr Patricia Scanlan who has come back to Ireland from Tanzania to be a part of the effort, want to go to Gaza when it is safe to do so to provide aid and help.

“We want to use our expertise to ensure the right kind of aid and equipment is being sent, rather than things the doctors don’t actually need. If we cannot get into Gaza, we want to go to the Egyptian border to work from there,” Khuffash said. 

He said that premature babies in particular are being affected. 

consultant Dr Afif El Khuffash.

Last month two premature babies died in Gaza’s al-Shifa Hospital after the neonatal intensive care unit stopped working due to a lack of electricity, it was reported on 11 November. 

Fuel is needed to power incubators which provide babies with stable temperatures, humidity, and a constant flow of oxygen. Premature babies are unable to regulate their body temperature, which can lead to them losing a lot of fluids, and becoming very cold quickly, which poses a huge threat to them. 

On 12 November the head of surgery in the hospital released an image of premature babies lying on beds in a theatre, with blankets wrapped around them, and taped so as to prevent them falling off. 

He said that he feared if that the babies were left in that condition, they would die. 


The Director of the hospital Mohammed Abu Salmiya said 37 babies’ lives were at risk at that time. 

On 20 November health workers were able to evacuate 28 premature babies out of the Gaza strip during a temporary ceasefire.

november-20-2023-rafah-border-crossing-gaza-palestinian-territory-medics-transfer-a-premature-palestinian-baby-in-an-incubator-from-gaza-to-an-ambulance-on-the-egyptian-side-of-the-rafah-border-c Medics transfer a premature Palestinian baby in an incubator from Gaza to an ambulance on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Khuffash said securing a ceasefire is essential for the lives of other premature babies and newborns who need hospital care.

More recently, on 3 December, it was reported that footage from the now abandoned Nasr children’s hospital in Gaza showed the bodies of several infants who were left in their beds after an emergency evacuation.

The hospital’s director told NBC news that staff could not safely evacuate five babies, some of whom were premature and on oxygen machines. 

Khuffash said: “Babies are dying in the Gaza hospitals every day.”

“There’s no way for us to know the exact numbers at the moment, but we know from talking to charities on the ground that it is happening on a daily basis.

“We have seen images of premature babies huddled together in incubators, and we are hearing horrific reports about the conditions doctors are working under, who are trying to save these children,” . 

The Dublin-based doctor said that the images of premature babies huddled together in one incubator struck a chord with him, and prompted him to take action. 

231120-gaza-nov-20-2023-xinhua-a-health-worker-takes-care-of-evacuated-premature-babies-at-a-hospital-in-the-southern-gaza-strip-city-of-rafah-nov-19-2023-thirty-one-premature-babies Babies in a hospital in Rafah city, Gaza, 20 November. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

“If an incubator is not plugged in, it is useless. These babies were next to each other to try and keep them warm. You don’t have to be a professional to see that they were not getting the care that they need. It is just horrible to see as a paediatrician. 

“We treat babies who need help to breathe, to be fed. All equipment needs to be sterilised, they need to be in the right conditions constantly. Without fuel and basic supplies, all a doctor can do for a premature baby is try and keep them warm,” Khuffash explained. 

‘Deafening silence’

He says there has been a “deafening silence” amongst the global paediatrician community on the plight of young babies in Gaza, specifically from the largest associations within the profession. 

“What we are seeing in Gaza is truly horrifying. I am yet to see one of the large paediatricians’ [associations] speak out about the plight of these children, and the thousands of children who have been killed, despite the fact that we unanimously advocate for Ukrainian children impacted by Russia’s invasion,’ Khuffash said. 

The European Society of Paediatric Research (ESPR) and the Society for Pediatric Research (SPR) jointly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and spoke out about the impact it would have on the health of innocent children. 

Since Hamas’s October 7 attacks in which dozens of children were killed and 30 were taken hostage, and Israel’s subsequent declaration of war and the reported deaths of 20,000 people in Gaza, the ESPR and six other organisations have released a statement that expressed their wish to “distance themselves from any form of violence against innocent civilians, particularly vulnerable children, irrespective of the underlying conflict or ideology”. 

They said that their thoughts were with the victims of “the numerous humanitarian crises around the world”. 

“I have written to these big organisations to ask them why they are being silent? War may be complicated, but there is nothing complicated about advocating for defenceless children.

This is part of the reason why our group has got together, because we want the paediatric community to be making appeals to the European Commission, our voice has been a powerful one in other conflicts,” Khuffash said. 

The GPCI held a vigil outside of the Dáil last month, and read aloud the names of all the babies that have been reported dead in the violence since 7 October.

“We read the names of the Israeli babies killed by Hamas first. It is important to me that our sole aim is getting aid to infants in need, and using our expertise in any way we can,” Khuffash said. 

The group has so far raised over €86,000. Part of this is being used to send basic supplies such as bandages and sutures, and part of it will be used to purchase specific equipment for treating neonates. 

Khuffash said it has been heartwarming that Irish doctors are participating in this campaign alongside him. 

“I am the only Irish Palestinian involved, but we have some very passionate people giving up a lot of their time. For me, it’s nice to see the support. My extended family are in the West Bank, and they barely leave the house because it has become so dangerous there. We financially support them. 

“Palestinians who live in other countries tend to be quiet about what their families are going through in the West Bank and Gaza. Now that has changed, and we have to use our voice to make people aware,” he said.