Press Release
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York

3 May 2002


Protecting Pregnant Women a Top Priority

(Reissued as received.)

NEW YORK, 3 May (UNFPA) -- Responding to the humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is asking donors to provide $3.6 million for emergency assistance over the next six to eight months, particularly for reproductive health and safe delivery assistance to vulnerable Palestinian women and girls.

The Population Fund has already shipped essential reproductive health supplies for clinics and hospitals, and is training 100 health workers to assist in obstetric emergencies. A major objective of the Fund’s appeal and relief efforts is to assist women in labour who may be unable to reach a hospital because of military activity, curfews and travel restrictions.

Funds are also needed to help rebuild the Palestinian Authority’s capacity to collect economic and demographic data; for activities to empower women and prevent gender-based violence; and for centres providing trauma counselling for women and their families.

Since September 2001, UNFPA has used funding from the United Kingdom and the Netherlands to provide emergency assistance in the territory. Medical supplies have been delivered to the Ministry of Health, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Makassed Hospital, Patients Friends Society Hospital in Jenin and the Palestinian Red Cross/Red Crescent Society.

The supplies include clean delivery kits for traditional birth attendants to use in home visits and for hospital use, and other reproductive health commodities. There are also plans to provide hospital equipment -- including delivery beds, critical care ventilators and ultrasound machines. Distribution of these supplies and equipment will involve NGOs such as the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, the Union of Health Work Committees and the Palestinian Family Planning and Protection Association.

UNFPA is also supporting training for midwives, nurses and physicians in community-based maternal health, emergency obstetric care and referral, and campaigns to inform the public about the availability of emergency services in their communities.

Violence in the territory has prevented medical personnel from reporting to health facilities and ambulances from reaching those in urgent need of care. Delays at checkpoints of women in labour have resulted in unattended roadside births and even deaths of some women and infants.

Even before the recent escalation, one fifth of pregnant women in Gaza and the West Bank could not receive prenatal care because of the difficulty of travelling through checkpoints to health facilities. The Israeli Army’s reoccupation of major cities and the imposition of curfews and travel restrictions exacerbated the situation, leaving pregnant women without access to live-saving medical assistance.

UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid has called on Israeli authorities to allow humanitarian organizations and workers unimpeded access to civilians, particularly women, to provide them with vital services such as emergency obstetric care.

The UNFPA appeal also seeks funds to continue providing integrated reproductive health services and psychological, social and legal counselling to Palestinian refugee women and their families. With assistance from Belgium, Italy and the OPEC Fund, UNFPA has supported women's health centres in El-Bureij, Jabalyia and Hebron; it plans to extend those services to 11 additional health facilities.

UNFPA is the world's largest multilateral source of population assistance. Since it became operational in 1969, it has provided some $5.6 billion to developing countries to meet reproductive health needs and support sustainable development efforts.

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