By Monica Awad
NABLUS, Occupied Palestinian Territory, 19 June 2007 – Palestinian children’s access to health services is regularly jeopardized. The current intra-Palestinian conflict and Israeli military incursions place their physical and mental well-being at risk, even as they suffer from the effects of an eight-month health workers’ strike.
The strike, which resulted from unpaid public employees’ salaries, ended early this month. But its impact on children’s health is lingering.
At the Balata governmental clinic in Nablus on the West Bank, dozens of mothers queue in a tiny room, waiting to get their children immunized. In the wake of the strike, clinics like Balata are overcrowded. “Yet we have to make sure that every child gets immunized,” says the clinic’s staff nurse, Marwa Dimiati.
‘The clinic is too crowded’
The Balata clinic serves a population of 20,000 dispersed in eight poor neighborhoods of eastern Nablus: namely, Kufur Kaleel, Al Masaken Al Sha’biyyeh, Irak Al Tayeh, Askar, Balata, Al Dhahyieh, Al Quds and Amman Street.
As of 2 June, following the cessation of the strike, the number of mothers visiting the clinic to immunize their children quadrupled from 40 to 160 per day.
Ola Dababat, a mother from Nablus, has been waiting for more than four hours to immunize her child. “I'm here since the early morning waiting to give my child a vaccine,” she says. “The clinic is too crowded with people who, like me, are waiting. This is all due to the strike observed by civil servants and it’s created this immense pressure.”
Health care system paralyzed
The strike paralyzed the health care system and had a devastating impact on children’s health.
“One of my baby's scheduled vaccines has been delayed for more than two months,” says Maysoon Shaheen, a mother from Balata. “Like all mothers, I was scared for my child’s health.”
In the midst of the health strike, one of Ms. Shaheen’s daughters came down with measles. During the same period, her baby boy was due to be immunized against the disease. “I could not give [the measles vaccine] to him because of the strike. I was so scared,” she recalls with dismay.
Nisreen Duweikat, another mother, is distressed that children’s right to immunization has been denied. “I wish to lead a normal life,” she says. “Our children are excluded from everything. They can’t live their life like other children in the world. Even getting a vaccination, which is the most basic right, is denied to them.”
Providing vaccines and essential drugs
To support the Ministry of Health (MoH) in sustaining immunization coverage beyond 90 per cent of the target age group, UNICEF has secured all needed vaccines for Palestinian children in 2007.
In addition, given limited access to remote areas in the territory, UNICEF has donated four land rovers and two refrigeration trucks, which will enable MoH workers to carry out mobile outreach services while ensuring vaccine security.
UNICEF has also delivered essential drugs for children under five years of age to 400 primary health care clinics and the neonatal wards of 17 hospitals. Essential micronutrients (including iron and vitamins A and D) for children up to 12 months old have been ordered as well.
According to Project Officer Mariam Al-Tell of the UNICEF Nablus Zonal Office, these activities have been supported by the Saudi Committee for the Relief of the Palestinian People and the Governments of Japan and the Netherlands.