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Source: United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
21 December 2010

Health care and immunization for Palestinian mothers and children in need

By Monica Awad

HABLEH, Occupied Palestinian Territory, 21 December 2010 – The Hableh government clinic on the West Bank is humming with activity. Today the clinic's paediatrician is immunizing children, and the benches are lined with women holding children in one hand and, in the other, a 'Mother and Child Handbook' designed to track a child's health and immunization status.

VIDEO: 8 December 2010 - UNICEF correspondent MP Nunan reports on the UNICEF-supported immunization programme in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Watch in RealPlayer

Nurse Aisheh Odeh moves from room to room, choreographing general, prenatal and paediatric care provided to some 75 patients daily.

"I studied to be a midwife because I felt that women were not getting the care they needed in the intifada," Ms. Odeh explains, referring to the uprising that started in 2000. "Many women were giving birth at military checkpoints and at home," she adds.

Support for immunization

Here at the Hableh clinic, mothers bring their children to the Ministry of Health's free immunization programme, which is supported by UNICEF and funded by the Government of Japan.

"Since the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994, UNICEF has been working with the Ministry of Health for the provision of vaccines and cold-chain equipment," says UNICEF's Deputy Special Representative for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Douglas G. Higgins. (Cold-chain equipment is used to preserve vaccines during immunization rounds.)

Across the territory, the Government of Japan has been influential in supporting mother and child health in general, and the immunization programme in particular.

"Our priority in the health sector in Palestine is child and mother health care, because we believe that a secure life is the basis for society," says the Representative of Japan to the Palestinian National Authority, Naofumi Hashimoto.

Reaching vulnerable children

In 2010, for the first time in a decade, the Ministry of Health covered the cost of vaccines for all Palestinian children from its budget, with support from UNICEF. "The immunization programme has been a particularly strong success story within the Palestinian territory, with immunization coverage beyond 95 per cent," adds Mr. Higgins.

The health ministry's Public Health Department is highly committed to continuously improving the immunization services for all refugee and non-refugee children across the territory, according to Dr. Asad Ramlawi, Director General of the ministry.

"For most vulnerable groups of children in hard-to-reach areas, we use mobile clinics to reach these communities as well as old channels of communication which proved to be successful," notes Dr. Ramlawi. "We use mosques to call upon mothers to bring their children to the clinic for immunization.

Access to care

In 2010, the Hableh clinic has overseen some 170 pregnancies, more than 30 of them high-risk. A small laboratory conducts basic tests for patients, and some medicines are dispensed by the clinic. Two nurses and a general practitioner serve patients here daily, while a paediatrician and dermatologist are available on certain days of the week.

The clinic serves not only the residents of Hableh but the surrounding villages, all of which – like the city of Qalqilya – are affected by the Barrier that Israel has constructed in the West Bank. A series of walls, fences, guard towers and checkpoints, the Barrier was ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice at The Hague in 2004.

Subhiya Hassan cradles her two-month-old son, Hassan, preparing him to receive his vaccinations.

She is thrilled by the clinics' services, which she calls "excellent." The mother of five adds that the twice-weekly clinic in her own village of Ras Attiyeh is insufficient.

"The doctor comes for two hours twice a week," she says. "If a baby gets ill during the week then we have to come to Hableh."

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