UN expert warns of mental health risks for Gaza citizens from war

By Thomson Reuters Apr 22, 2024 | 8:18 AM

GENEVA (Reuters) – A United Nations expert on Monday warned there was a risk that mental illnesses could manifest themselves years from now among the people of Gaza due to the current conflict.

“Of course, we see the physical injury, and because it’s physical, one can appreciate the severity of it,” said Tlaleng Mofokeng, U.N. special rapporteur on the right to health.

“But acute mental distress that will then turn into anxiety and other kinds of mental illnesses later on in life is really, really important to start thinking intentionally about.”

UNICEF said in February it estimated that 17,000 children in Gaza were unaccompanied or had been separated from their families during the conflict, and that nearly all children in the enclave were thought to require mental health support.

Palestinian health authorities say more than 34,000 people have been killed in Israel’s assault, which began after Hamas fighters attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people and abducting another 253 to Gaza, according to Israeli tallies.

The Israeli assault has destroyed hospitals across the enclave, including Al Shifa Hospital, the Gaza Strip’s largest before the war, and killed and injured health workers.

Israel accuses Hamas of regularly using hospitals, ambulances and other medical facilities for military purposes.

“The health system in Gaza has been completely obliterated, and the right to health has been decimated at every level,” Mofokeng said.

“The conditions are incompatible with the realization of everyone to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”

Mofokeng said she was concerned about the risk of water and air borne diseases, and the lack of medical supplies and reproductive and mental health services in the Gaza Strip.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Bernadette Baum)