INFANT MORTALITY RATE RISES IN GAZA FOR FIRST TIME IN FIFTY YEARS
08 August 2015
The infant mortality rate in Gaza has risen for the first time in five decades, according to an UNRWA study, and UNRWA’s Health Director says the blockade may be contributing to the trend.
Every five years UNRWA conducts a survey of infant mortality across the region, and the 2013 results were released this week.
The number of babies dying before the age of one has consistently gone down over the last decades in Gaza, from 127 per 1,000 live births in 1960 to 20.2 in 2008. At the last count, in 2013, it had risen to 22.4 per 1,000 live births.
The rate of neonatal mortality, which is the number of babies that die before four weeks old, has also gone up significantly in Gaza, from 12 per 1,000 live births in 2008 to 20.3 in 2013.
“Infant mortality is one of the best indicators for the health of the community,” said Dr. Akihiro Seita, Director of UNRWA’s health program. “It reflects on the mother and child’s health and in the U.N. Millennium Development Goals it is one of the key indicators.”
“The rate”, Dr. Seita said, “had declined quite smoothly over the last decades across the region, including Gaza. So when the 2013 results from Gaza were first uncovered, UNRWA was alarmed by the apparent increase. So we worked with external independent research groups to examine the data, to ensure the increase could be confirmed. That is why it took us so long to release these latest figures“.
Such an increase here is unprecedented in Dr. Seita’s experience working in the Middle East. “Progress in combatting infant mortality doesn’t usually reverse. This seems to be the first time we have seen an increase like this,” Dr. Seita said. “The only other examples I can think of are in some African countries which experienced HIV epidemics”.
The UN Agency will carry out another region-wide survey of Palestinian refugees in 2018. However, UNRWA will conduct one this year in Gaza alone because of these latest figures.
“It is hard to know the exact causes behind the increase in both neonatal and infant mortality rates, but I fear it is part of a wider trend. We are very concerned about the impact of the long-term blockade on health facilities, supplies of medicines and brining equipment in to Gaza,” Dr. Seita said.
The UNRWA report also highlights that the most recent survey was conducted before last year’s conflict in which over two thousand Palestinians were killed, the majority of whom were civilians, including over 550 children.
UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions, and financial support has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees and deepening poverty. As a result, the UNRWA General Fund, which supports core essential services and most staffing costs, operates with a large deficit. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large deficits, are funded through separate funding portals.
UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.
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