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Source: United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
6 July 2012

State-of-the-art care for Gaza's infants

GAZA CITY, Occupied Palestinian Territory, 6 July 2012 – On a sunny day in Gaza, Mirfat Ali cuddled her 10-day-old baby Mahmoud. With the sun pouring in from the window, her concern slowly eased: her infant had finally stopped coughing.

“He had a cold and a fever all night long,” Ms. Ali said as she rocked him gently in her arms. “I could not sleep and at first, I was reluctant to bring him here. However my husband insisted and now I’m glad we came.”

For the first-time mother, coming to the new Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Gaza City’s Al Nasser Paediatric Hospital proved to be the best decision she could have made.

State of the art

“A lot of my anxieties subsided the minute I set foot in this unit, seeing how well-run it is,” Ms. Ali said. “The unit seems very well equipped and taken care of; its workers give very professional service and made me feel cared for.”

Launched in January with funding from UNICEF’s French National Committee, this state-of-the-art neonatal unit, specializing in the care of babies up to 28 days old, testifies to the potential of the Gaza Strip when it is able to develop. Gaza’s hospitals refer babies suffering from premature birth, jaundice, respiratory defects, septicaemia and congenital heart diseases to the new unit, as it is best equipped to save newborns’ lives.

“Before the unit was renovated, we used to have very old equipment that had no compatibility. We would also cram all babies into one hall, without even an isolation room for infectious cases,” recalled head nurse Hamdi Al-Khudari. Nurses would put sick newborns in a corner and pray for the other babies not to get infected, she said.

‘I wonder whether I am still in Gaza’

The fully equipped Neonatal Intensive Care Unit now comprises 30 incubators and three isolation rooms, as well as a dedicated breastfeeding room that gives mothers the privacy they need to feed their newborns.

“Each time I enter the neonatal unit, I wonder whether I am still in Gaza,” Nurse Al-Khudari said. “Many of the babies’ mothers tell me the new unit makes them feel as if they were somewhere else, and it makes them feel safe.”

Al-Khudari runs a team of 34 nurses who, together with eight doctors, provide emergency care for Gaza’s babies 24 hours a day. The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit was made to accommodate Gaza’s daily power outages, which otherwise threaten patients dependent on electrical machinery. In addition to a special generator for the entire unit, every ventilator in the unit is equipped with special battery packs to power up during blackouts. UNICEF also funded new furniture, trolleys, beds and much of the unit’s equipment.

“Our biggest challenge remains human resources,” Nurse Al-Khudari said. “We’re never enough staff for the number of cases we get every day, but at least, the new environment makes a huge, positive difference for us.”

The unit also serves as a training hospital, with medical students from Gaza coming to learn and practice. “This unusually modern environment affects everyone positively, the staff as well as the babies’ families,” said Abdallah Salem, a 21-year-old medical student.

‘The best care possible’

Meanwhile, doctors had decided that baby Mahmoud would be kept under observation overnight. His mother, visibly tired, left him in the care of the unit’s able team. She smiled to Reem Jindia Shajaif, a mother of ten who looked equally exhausted after her 26-day-old baby Mohasen was admitted for breathing problems.

“I went to another hospital and they told me to come here. At first it made me very anxious, but now I realize it was the best choice,” Ms. Shajaif said. “I can already see that my baby will have the best care possible here.”

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