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Source: United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
6 February 2007

Palestinian child health still faces challenges, despite end of strike at clinics

By Monica Awad

HEBRON, Occupied Palestinian Territory, 6 February 2007  Government clinics have resumed routine services following a recent three-month health workers’ strike that began after clinic staff members had not been paid their full salaries for over 10 months.

At the Ein Sara Clinic in Hebron, mothers with young children queued in a tiny room waiting their turn. As each mother entered the crowded room, she handed her child’s yellow immunization card to the attending nurse.

The clinic serves the vast majority of the inhabitants of Hebron, reaching about 150,000 Palestinians. Unlike the other four clinics in the city, Ein Sara is located away from Israeli Defence Force checkpoints, making it easier to access.

“The strike made our clinic more crowded,” said Ein Sara’s head nurse, Asmahan Abu Sneineh. “All mothers come to this clinic, even though there are other clinics, because of all the checkpoints.

“But our clinic space is so small, and this causes a problem for the people, especially when they wait for long hours,” she added. “We need a bigger clinic and more medical staff.”

Effects on immunization

During the strike, Ein Sara was opened one day every two weeks to provide immunizations, and parents waited in long lines to have their children vaccinated. Combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine was not available, so health providers administered measles shots instead.

“The vaccination of my child has been delayed for two months now because of the strike,” said one mother, Em Fadi Al-Fakhouri. “I came here several times but without having my child immunized. They didn’t have the vaccine.”

Despite the effects of the extended strike, a rising birth rate and other factors, the rate of immunization against the most common childhood diseases here remains high, at over 90 per cent.

Supplies for clinics and hospitals

To help address the health needs of Palestinian children, UNICEF is providing over 400 health clinics and 17 hospitals with $2.9 million in medical supplies, including:

The agency has also helped to promote breastfeeding and appropriate child feeding practices.

“UNICEF was able to secure all vaccine and vaccine supplies that are needed for both refugee and non-refugee children all over the West Bank and Gaza Strip,” said UNICEF Hebron Zonal Officer Wafa Obeidat, who acknowledged the help of the Saudi Committee for the Relief of the Palestinian People and the Japanese Government in sustaining child health in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Sabine Dolan contributed to this story from New York.

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