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US doctor recounts 'heartbreaking' mission for kids in northern Gaza

A U.S. pediatrician who recently gained rare access to a children’s hospital in northern Gaza speaks out for the first time about what he witnessed.
US doctor recounts 'heartbreaking' mission for kids in northern Gaza
Posted at 1:41 PM, Mar 22, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-22 15:42:50-04

Few humanitarians have set foot in northern Gaza in recent months. Last week, Chicago-area pediatrician John Kahler became one of them. 

For his organization MedGlobal, Dr. Kahler traveled to Kamal Adwan Hospital, north of Gaza City, for one afternoon to help set up a potential nutrition stabilization program for young children. 

“The road was absolutely destroyed. I mean, it was blown to smithereens," the 77-year-old recalls, adding that when he toured the pediatric unit “virtually 100% of the children were dehydrated and malnourished.” 

Accompanied by a UNICEF representative, Kahler brought with him two cases of special formula designed to help resuscitate malnourished children. 

"You would have thought we brought a shipment-load by how happy people were that we brought something. It tells you the immensity of the problem," Kahler said. 

According to UNICEF, 25% of children under 5 in northern Gaza now suffer from acute malnutrition.  

Kahler says that's a tipping point — and the percentage could soon increase exponentially, leading to more deaths and "a potential breakdown in civil order, because the parents of these kids are going to become more and more desperate, in addition to being more and more hungry." 

Kahler says he saw hints of that desperation during his journey to the hospital in a U.N.-marked SUV. 

"People hitting the window of your car as you passed — more out of frustration and anger. And it was just this terrible feeling of impotence," he recalled. 

Twice in the last month, efforts to bring aid to northern Gaza ended in bloodshed as Gazans approaching aid convoys were killed. 

Kahler says MedGlobal's mission there will only work if Israel opens more crossings and allows more aid. Israeli officials say they don't impose limits on how much aid can enter Gaza though aid workers say inspections are slow. 

During his trip, Kahler also spent a week overseeing the launch of malnutrition screening and stabilization programs for children in Rafah in southern Gaza. 

"What you see when you get a thing like malnutrition is you see the stare, they're really listless,” the pediatrician explained, adding that seeing so many malnourished children in Gaza with that stare was heartbreaking. 

It was the doctor's second trip to Gaza in two months. Barely back from his latest mission, he's already planning the next, slated for April. 

 "The remainder of my life is dedicated to helping people like this," he said.

SEE MORE: Chicago doctor describes heartbreaking scenes in Rafah, vows to return


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