60% of newborns do not live past four weeks
If infant mortality is one of the main indicators of the health of a population, the health situation in Gaza seems to have plummeted for the first time in half a century.
UNRWA, the United Nations agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, has found that in 2013 twenty-two of every thousand babies died before they reached their first birthday, compared to 20.2 in 2008.
UN figures reflect a higher health impairment than neonatal mortality of children under four weeks, which increased by 60%, from 12% to 20.3% over the same period.
Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza eight years ago alleging security reasons after the Islamist movement Hamas took power. Egypt has also imposed strict controls on the movement of goods and people along its border.
The director of UNRWA’s health program, Akihiro Seita, said in a statement released by the agency that “progress in terms of infant mortality is generally not experience” and that instead, Palestinians in general and children in particular experience more “setbacks”.
In 1960, when the UN sought his first medical reports on the Strip, the rate of babies who died before their first birthday per thousand births stood at 127 cases.
“An increase like the one registered in Gaza is unprecedented,” says Seita, “and can only be found in African countries that have experienced epidemics of AIDS”.
The UN agency reviewed data with independent sources to make sure there wouldn’t be errors and has commissioned a new study this year to confirm the results.
The health official argues that although it is difficult to determine the causes of the increased mortality of infants, the UN has expressed concern about “the long-term impact of the blockade on health centers and the provision of medicines and medical supplies.”
Data published by United Nations do not include deaths registered in 2014. The armed conflict that took place last summer in Gaza killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, of which about a quarter were children. Only 73 Israelis were killed, most of whom were IDF soldiers who entered Gaza in search for alleged terrorists.
A year later, most of the patients treated by humanitarian organizations such as Doctors Without Borders are children and thousands still need psychological treatment after the impact of the war in the Palestinian coastal villages, where 45% of the population -1.8 million in total- are less than 14 years of age. These particular group of people has suffered three armed conflicts over the past six years.
On the other hand, the UN fears that cutting international donations endangers the resumption of the school year later this month in Gaza, where 225,000 students receive education in UNRWA schools. Those very schools were bombarded by Israel during the 2014 conflict.
The UN agency for children, UNICEF, warned last year about an increase in the rate of school failure in Gaza, where many students are still suffering the consequences of war. The latest Israeli attacks destroyed 18,000 homes and left more than 140,000 people homeless.