War, disease could kill 85,000 Gazans in six months

An escalation of the war in Gaza could lead to the deaths of 85,000 Palestinians from injuries and illnesses in the next six months, in the worst of three situations that leading epidemiologists have modeled in an effort to understand the possible future death toll from the conflict.

These deaths would add to the more than 29,000 deaths in Gaza that local authorities have attributed to the conflict since it began in October. The estimate represents an “excess death toll,” higher than what would have been expected if there had been no war.

In a second scenario, assuming no change in the current level of fighting or humanitarian access, there could be 58,260 additional deaths in the enclave over the next six months, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the School of Hygiene and Health. London Tech. Tropical Medicine.

That figure could rise to 66,720 if there were outbreaks of infectious diseases such as cholera, their analysis found.

Even under the best of the three possibilities the research team outlined (an immediate and sustained ceasefire without infectious disease outbreaks), another 6,500 Gazans could die over the next six months as a direct result of the war, the study found. analysis.

The population of the Gaza Strip before the war was 2.2 million.

“This is not a political message or a promotion,” said Dr. Francesco Checchi, a professor of epidemiology and international health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“We just wanted to put it in people’s minds and on the desks of decision makers,” he added, “so that later you can say that when these decisions were made, there was some evidence available about how this would be played.” in terms of lives.”

Dr. Checchi and his colleagues estimated the projected excess deaths from health data available for Gaza before the war began and from that collected over more than four months of fighting.

Their study considers deaths from traumatic injuries, infectious diseases, maternal and neonatal causes, and noncommunicable diseases for which people can no longer receive medications or treatment, such as dialysis.

Dr Checchi said the analysis made it possible to quantify the potential impact of a ceasefire on lives. “The decisions that will be made in the coming days and weeks are very important in terms of the evolution of the death toll in Gaza,” he said.

The projected 6,500 deaths even with a ceasefire are based on the assumption that there will be no infectious disease epidemics. With an outbreak of cholera, measles, polio or meningitis, that number would be 11,580, said Dr. Paul Spiegel, director of the Hopkins Center for Humanitarian Health and author of the research, which has not been peer-reviewed.

While it is obvious that a military escalation would result in more casualties, he added, policymakers should be aware of the range in death tolls these scenarios indicate.

“We hope to give it some reality,” Dr. Spiegel said. “This is an additional 85,000 deaths in a population where 1.2 percent of that population has already been murdered.”

Patrick Ball, an expert in quantitative analysis of conflict deaths who was not involved in the research, said it was unusual to see such a rigorous effort to calculate the potential humanitarian cost of an ongoing war.

“The paper illuminates this conflict in a way that we haven’t had in any previous conflict,” said Dr. Ball, research director at the nonprofit Human Rights Data Analysis Group. “It illuminates the likely costs in human lives and human suffering of different types of future actions that are under human control.”

“People are going to make decisions that will lead to one of these three scenarios, or some complex combination of them, and this gives us an idea of ​​what the likely outcomes of those decisions are,” he added.

The analysis projects that deaths from traumatic injuries in Gaza over the next six months will be spread across all ages and genders.

“43 percent of trauma deaths occur among women and 42 percent among children under 19 years of age,” the document says, which “reflects the intensity and widespread nature of the bombing.”

Even with an immediate ceasefire, war-related deaths would continue, the analysis said. The toll includes deaths of people who succumb to previous injuries or are injured by unexploded ordnance, deaths of babies and women for whom complex care during childbirth is not possible, and deaths of malnourished children who are unable to fight off infections. like pneumonia.

“I don’t think people realize how long it will take for that to change,” Dr. Spiegel said.