First Two Hong Kong Field Workers to Gaza, President of MSF-Hong Kong Departs Today with a HK Nurse

The President of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Hong Kong, Dr FAN Ning, departs for Israel today with a registered nurse from Hong Kong also joining the MSF mission. Both of them will first join MSF’s medical team in Jerusalem and will further head to the Gaza Strip. They will be the first two Hong Kong people to provide medical humanitarian assistance in this conflict in Gaza.

Since the Israeli military operation began on 27 December 2008, the MSF 73-member-team in Gaza (including three international and 70 Palestinian staff members), have been trying hard to provide medical aid amid heavy bombing and shelling. The local hospitals are overwhelmed by the inflow of sick and wounded patients, and the hospital staff are exhausted. Also, they are facing a shortage of surgeons.  The main hospital in Gaza, Al Shifa Hospital, has requested and relied on the support of MSF staff and medical supplies for the past three weeks.

A surgical team and other personnel just entered the Gaza Strip early this morning (HK Time) to provide essential surgical services to people seriously wounded during the last three weeks of intense fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas. The international team is composed of six people - a vascular surgeon, an orthopedic surgeon, an anesthetist, an operating room nurse, a logistician, and a field coordinator. The team was forced to wait in Jerusalem for ten days until it was authorised by the Israeli government and had security guarantees by the Israeli Army to enter the Erez crossing point in the north of the Gaza Strip, a very dangerous and exposed zone.  Other crossing points into Gaza from Israel were not made available to MSF.  The team entered with a convoy from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and proceeded to Gaza City, where MSF operates a post-operative clinic and provides medical supplies to hospitals. 

Dr Fan and the accompanying Hong Kong nurse have been on stand-by in Hong Kong since the peak of the fighting. They both got calls from MSF late last week asking them to depart today for Jerusalem and then try to go to Gaza.

Dr Fan says before his departure that the worsening security situation in the Gaza Strip is severely hampering the humanitarian aid workers’ access to the wounded patients as well as patients’ access to medical facilities. Since the borders of Gaza are closely sealed, civilians have nowhere to flee but be trapped in war.

He says, “Local hospitals are overwhelmed by the flow of wounded patients, and sometimes two operations are performed simultaneously in the same operating theatre.” Medical facilities in Gaza are facing the shortage of medical personnel and supplies, and are in need of assistance. 

A cargo freight of 21 tons of medical materials flown by MSF last Thursday from Europe and bound for Gaza is still sitting at Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv, awaiting customs clearance.  Among the items are two inflatable medical tents that will house operating rooms and a ten-bed intensive care unit for the MSF surgical team to work in.

Dr Fan has worked in conflict-affected area of Sri Lanka with MSF. “In Sri Lanka I was close to the front line. But this time, it will be really going into the war zone. And this will be my first time. As an international medical humanitarian organisation, MSF upholds its principle of neutrality and not to bias to any parties in the conflict. This principle is respected in many places where we work. During this mission, I will pay attention to the personal safety and closely follow MSF’s security guidelines,” says Dr Fan.  

When asking if he would worry about his own safety, he says “To be frank, I’m a little worried. But as an MSF frontline worker, we will collect information from difference sources everyday so as to facilitate our work.” Dr Fan is going to stay in Gaza for three weeks, but it may vary depending on the need in the field.

Dr FAN Ning is a general surgeon and currently works in the surgical department in a public hospital in Hong Kong. He joined MSF in 2007 and worked in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka, to provide medical assistance for the wounded including those affected by war. In the same year after returning from the field, he was elected as a member of MSF-Hong Kong Board. Dr Fan was newly elected as the President of MSF-Hong Kong in December 2008. He has also joined other humanitarian work in the past with other organisations and has worked in Kenya in 2005-06 and Sichuan, China after the earthquake last year.

MSF has been working in the Gaza Strip since 1989. Before the current conflict breaks out, MSF has regular programmes in Gaza including post-operative care, physical therapy, pediatric services, and psychosocial/ medical support.