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In Gaza, Doctors Without Borders coordinator witnesses children's extreme suffering


Palestinian health officials say in addition to the more than 20,000 people killed in Gaza, more than 54,000 have been wounded since the beginning of the war. The vast majority are women and children. NPR's Aya Batrawy spoke to someone who spent weeks in overwhelmed hospitals in Gaza trying to care for children. And a warning - this story mentions suicide.

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: Doctors Without Borders, or MSF, has physicians at some of the few hospitals still functioning in Gaza. Emergency coordinator Marie-Aure Perreault Revial describes what she saw there.

MARIE-AURE PERREAULT REVIAL: So our surgeons had to operate on 1-year-olds, 2-year-olds who had to be amputated from one leg or two, one arm or two, but they lost - it's very, very common.

BATRAWY: Perreault Revial spent five weeks in Gaza at different hospitals and clinics and left only a few days ago. Reached in France, she says she saw kids severely wounded, crippled for life, but also orphaned and with nowhere to go.

REVIAL: And the only thing I can say is that it's even worse in reality than it looks. It's - the amount of suffering is just something - yeah - incomparable. It's really unbearable.

BATRAWY: MSF was offering mental health support to children in Khan Yunis, an area of intense fighting now between Israel's military and Hamas. She says children there were drawing pictures of their house being bombed and family members killed. She says kids as young as 5 were having suicidal thoughts.

REVIAL: I'm speechless when I try and think of the future of this children. It's generations of children who will be handicapped, who will be traumatized. The very children in our mental health program are telling us that they would rather die than continue living in Gaza now.

BATRAWY: MSF had also been treating kids in that clinic for skin disease, diarrhea and chest infections, but they had to stop their operations because of Israeli evacuation orders. Around 2 million Palestinians have been displaced by this war. Many don't have access to clean water and are living on the street. Perreault Revial says some of the amputations she saw there were the result of wounds that had become severely infected. She says doctors are struggling to offer post-operative care to babies in Gaza who've lost their limbs before they could ever learn to walk.

REVIAL: We're also doing physiotherapy. But again, how do you do physiotherapy on a - on babies - 1-year-olds who cannot walk but has already - who's already lost their - his legs?

BATRAWY: She was at Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis recently. That's where Dunia Abu-Mohsen, a 12-year-old girl who'd lost her right leg, both parents and two siblings, was being treated. She says in a video she wants a prosthetic leg and to become a doctor to treat other kids. It was recorded by Defense For Children International Palestine, a Palestinian human rights organization focused on kids.


DUNIA ABU-MOHSEN: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: But on Sunday, she was killed inside the hospital by an Israeli tank shell, according to Gaza's health ministry. Israel's military did not respond to NPR's request for comment on this incident. Israel blames casualties on Hamas for operating in civilian areas and says its war in Gaza is to destroy Hamas after the October 7 attacks. Perreault Revial says there's very little that aid groups can do for survivors while bombs are still being dropped.

REVIAL: It's a life of incredible suffering that is just ahead of them now with the future there.

BATRAWY: And she says no amount of aid can make up for what Gaza's children have lost. Aya Batrawy, NPR News.


KHALID: If you or someone you know is in crisis, you can call or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Aya Batrawy
Aya Batraway is an NPR International Correspondent based in Dubai. She joined in 2022 from the Associated Press, where she was an editor and reporter for over 11 years.