APN COVID Report #1: How accurate is Coronavirus reporting in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza?

In no country is it possible to know the real number of cases of people infected with Coronavirus, which is partly how it has become such a devastating disease. There are several reasons for this, but the primary factor is testing. No country has enough resources to test every person, though some have done significantly better than others. So far, Israel has been fairly effective, testing double that of the US per capita. Even with the limitations to determine precise testing figures, Israeli testing is favorable to many other comparable states. Israel was also swift in implementing social distancing measures to slow the spread of the disease.

The latest figures for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip seem low, 247 and 13 cases respectively, according to the World Health Organization and Palestinian Authority. From Palestinian Ministry of Health reports, it seems around 13,500 tests have been done in the West Bank. The ratio of tests to cases in the West Bank is similar to that of Israel, so reporting accuracy is probably also similar. However, looking forward, the Palestinian Ministry of Health may struggle to obtain enough test kits and is relying on donations from other nations and NGOs. This could limit the number of test kits the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank can obtain, which will further strain Palestinian healthcare facilities. The WHO time and again has stressed the importance of testing for combating the disease. It is imperative that enough tests can be administered in the West Bank to understand the locations of outbreaks, as is happening in Israel.

As of April 6th, only 1,495 coronavirus tests have taken place in Gaza where symptoms alone do not qualify anyone for a test. Anyone coming into Gaza has been forced to quarantine in schools so there has been much less chance for the virus to spread than in less isolated countries. However, with such an acute shortage of test kits, it is far from certain that the virus is as contained as it appears to be or will remain so. Given the average 5-day lag between being infected and showing symptoms, and further lag time for severe cases to require hospitalization, this virus can spread like wildfire if undetected by proper testing.

There have been numerous reports of how devastating a major coronavirus outbreak in Gaza would be for the local population, and how severe the repercussions could be for Israel and Egypt.

Gaza’s health system is already lacking basic resources.  It is therefore crucial for local health authorities to receive adequate shipments of testing kits to contain a possible outbreak.  

Thus far, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza have been quite effective at implementing social distancing, lockdown and quarantine measures. Israel and the West Bank are also currently both doing fairly well at testing in comparison to other countries. However, as funding for testing in the West Bank becomes scarcer and the situation in Gaza is unclear and precarious, Israeli authorities must significantly step up their support of Gaza’s public health professionals efforts at preventing the spread of COVID-19 into the Strip . For more on issue related to Gaza, watch this interview with Gaza epidemiologist Dr. Yehia Abed.

Israel has so far allowed into Gaza fewer than 2000 test kits, which were donated by the WHO.

To prevent a public health disaster in the Gaza Strip, which would severely impact both Israel and Egypt, Israel’s authorities must step up their efforts by making sure that health providers in Gaza have as many test kits as they need.

This update was written by APN intern Thomas Sweeney

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