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United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG)
22 May 2009
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22 May 2009
United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East
Elena Mancusi-Matef of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East said in the week of the World Health Assembly, UNRWA was focusing this briefing on its health interventions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as well as in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. UNRWA today would also present its annual report of the department of health for 2008.
Guido Sabatinelli, Director of Health of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, said the World Health Assembly had provided the opportunity for UNRWA to prepare and release the annual report at the same time. It was a quite comprehensive document and in the five minutes that he had, he would not be able to present their achievements and the constraints that they faced. UNRWA, in spite of financial and political constraints, was expanding in its response to the health needs of the refugee population that was now almost five million in five field operations. UNRWA provided comprehensive primary health care, including both curative services and preventative medicine. UNRWA’s health programme was delivered through a network of 137 clinics and one hospital; the health programme employed almost 4,000 persons, including 430 medical doctors. UNRWA provided curative services that included dental services and radiological and laboratory services. On preventative care and health protection and promotion, UNRWA provided maternal and child health in all aspects. There was also control of communicable diseases, the most important of which was vaccination of children that reached almost 100 per cent of children living in the camps and among the population that they served. UNRWA also provided screening for non-communicable diseases, diabetes and hypertension.
Mr. Sabatinelli said the results of the programme were relatively good. Infant mortality ranged between 15 (West Bank) and 25 (Gaza Strip) per 1,000 live births. That was comparable to the figures from the hosting countries in Syria and Lebanon and Jordan; however it was much higher than the figures recorded in Israel, where it was only 5 per 1,000 live births. The full report on the impact of the war in Gaza at the end of 2008 would institutionally be in the report for 2009, but the 2008 document also had a chapter which indicated the consequences of the war, which included more than 1,400 deaths and 5,000 injured persons. Today, the situation in Gaza and the occupied Palestinian territory in general was still deteriorating in the sense that the blockage that was imposed, even before the war, was heavily affecting the health of the people. The blockage had also affected the ability of UNRWA to provide health services. Before the war, reportedly 4,000 items could generally be imported into Gaza, whereas now only the import of 40 items was allowed. UNRWA was unable to repair the health centres that were damaged, nor the schools and homes, because of restrictions on the import of building material. UNRWA also had difficulty in printing the school books as there was no paper. There was a shortage of files to keep medical records in UNRWA health centres because of this paper shortage. Also since 2 November, no petrol or diesel was being delivered to Gaza, and only very limited cooking gas was being delivered. In addition to the widespread unemployment, the situation had affected the ability of families to provide adequate food to children, so 30 per cent of children below 36 months were anemic, as well as 50 per cent of pregnant women. This situation was very worrisome for UNRWA.
Last year, there had been a global increase of prices. UNRWA was planning for the next biennium and it foresaw that there would be a shortage of one fourths of the budget. What would be the consequences of that, asked Mr. Sabatinelli? Since there was an expanding need and very limited resources, probably next year UNRWA would be obliged to suspend some of the services that were essential to the population. UNRWA’s health budget was $ 80 million to provide for 4 million persons, i.e. $ 20 per person per year. WHO advised countries to spend at least $ 60 per person per year as an absolute minimum. As for the consequences of the shortage of funds, they might be obliged for example to close the hospital of Qalqilya, reduce oral health services etc.. Nonetheless in this case, the consequences on the health and dissatisfaction of the beneficiary population would be of highest concern.