By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA (Reuters) - The Gaza Strip's struggling healthcare system will get some much needed help in 2016 after the first new hospital in a decade opened its doors in the territory last month and as two more foreign-funded clinics are set to launch this year.
After nearly five years of construction, with delays caused by fighting and restrictions on imports imposed by Israel and Egypt, the Indonesia Hospital opened its doors on Dec. 27 and has since been treating more than 250 patients a day.
Built on a hilltop outside Jabalya, Gaza's largest refugee camp, it serves 300,000 people who live in the far north of the territory, an area hard hit in the conflict with Israel in 2014.
Heavy aerial bombardment of the densely populated Gaza Strip killed 2,100 people, mostly civilians, according to Palestinian officials, and caused widespread destruction. Israel put the number of its dead at 67 soldiers and six civilians.
Funded by an Indonesian NGO, the $9 million facility has 110 beds, compared to the 62 beds of the old local hospital, and will make a big difference to the local population, said Muaeen al-Masri, its head of media and public relations.
Gaza, home to nearly 2 million people, has around 30 hospitals and major clinics, providing an average of 1.3 beds for every 1,000 people, according to the World Bank.
By comparison, Israel has an average of 3.3 beds per 1,000 and the European Union 5.4 per 1,000.
Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman for the Palestinian Health Ministry, said there was a shortage of doctors in Gaza, especially trained physicians and surgeons. Seriously ill patients must travel to Israel, Egypt and beyond if they need specialist medical treatment, he said.
Because Israel only admits death-threatened patients and Egypt keeps its border crossing with Gaza largely closed, hundreds of lives are at risk, said Qidra.
The largest hospital in the territory is Shifa, in the center of Gaza City, with 750 beds. A vast facility, it is frequently overrun with patients, leading to shortages of medicine, equipment and staff.
"They (the new hospitals) will represent a great contribution to the health situation in Gaza," Qidra said.
One hospital expected to open this year is a Qatar-funded center for prosthetics, an area much in demand in Gaza where repeated conflicts with Israel since 2006 have left thousands of people with missing limbs.
Turkey, a major supporter of the Palestinians, is building health facilities in both Gaza and the West Bank. The Indonesia Hospital employs 400 people, paid by the health ministry.
Many locals gathered at the hospital compound on Wednesday to get a glimpse of the new facility, the first new hospital in Gaza since 2006.
The two-storey building, pristine and smelling of fresh paint, will provide outpatient clinics, general and orthopaedic surgery and a specialist department for abdominal diseases.
Umm Hashem, a mother bringing her 17-year-old daughter to the hospital to have a stomach problem examined, praised the new facility, saying it was long overdue.
"The best thing here is the X-ray machine," she said, referring to the CT-scanner. "We used to go to Shifa hospital to get checked, but now we can do it here."
Gaza's health ministry has four other CT scanners, but they are old and have had frequent technical problems in recent years. Some private medical centers in the territory have their own, but the cost is prohibitive for the average Gazan.
"We came to Gaza in 2009 and we saw patients and no medicine and not enough hospitals," said Edy Wahyudi of Indonesia's Medical Emergency Rescue Committee, which funded the facility.
Wahyudi, who oversaw the construction, said the funding had come from individuals in Indonesia who wanted to help Gazans. Rooms in the hospital are named after donors and some of Indonesia's 17,000 islands.
(Writing by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)