Conflict and Health: Exploring Health Challenges in Current Conflicts

July 4, 2024

Conflict and Health: Exploring Health Challenges in Current Conflicts

  Episode 1 – Palestine, 26 June 2024  

Written by: Hannah Balda                   

In August 2023, I moved to Dublin from the United States to pursue my Master of Public Health degree at the University College Dublin. It was in Dublin where I met my dear friend Dr. Walaa Al Abssi, one of the speakers for the first part of this four-part webinar series.

Walaa is from Gaza, Palestine and unlike my experience growing up, Walaa has suffered much more than anyone ever should. Being an American, I have privileges that I have taken for granted more times than I care to admit, a luxury that Walaa’s passport does not afford her. Upon meeting Walaa for the first time, she told me something about living in Gaza that has stuck with me all these months later – age is measured by “number of wars survived”. She joked that she had a Ph.D. in surviving wars. This conversation was no more than two weeks before the current wave of violence in Gaza began. Since then, I have seen Walaa display an unimaginable amount of strength while her family experiences displacement, bombings, famine, drought, and worst of all, uncertainty of when they will be safe again and when this nightmare will end.

To put this into perspective, imagine knowing your family is safe one minute, and then the next you cannot communicate with them for days on end. You don’t know where they are, you don’t know if they are safe or even if they are still alive. Unfortunately, Walaa’s story is not unique.

During this webinar, we also heard from Dr. Nick Maynard, a specialist cancer surgeon working with Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) and Maire-Aure Perreault with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) who have worked on the ground in Gaza during this war as well as other conflicts in the past. Maire-Aure described the systematic destruction of the healthcare infrastructure and the systematic targeting of medical personnel on the ground in Gaza. Dr. Maynard, who served for several weeks operating on trauma patients, described conditions that seem otherworldly. If it was a movie, I would say the directors took it too far. Although it may seem like a movie, the war in Gaza is real life.

Throughout this webinar, we heard about the resounding issues that the lack of resources are causing. The Israeli military has taken active measures to destroy hospitals, medical facilities, and existing resources which is silently killing thousands of Palestinians that would have otherwise survived their injuries. We are already seeing the impact of malnutrition and psychological trauma on Gazans, especially children, some of whom are the only surviving members of their families. No person should ever have to experience loss the way Palestinians are right now, and as they have over the last century.

Walaa is the embodiment of what Dr. Maynard said during this webinar; that Gazans are a unique people, and they are profoundly resilient and hopeful. There are so many things about this conflict that make us feel helpless, yet there is still so much we can do to help Palestinians like Walaa. Walaa said “I left Gaza, but Gaza never left me,” and that is a sentiment that I think everyone seeing this webinar should hold onto. The conflict does not end when you leave Gaza. It persists throughout time and will continue to do so until there is a generation that does not measure their age by “numbers of wars survived”.


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