Gaza: infant health jeopardized by shortages in laboratory testing materials
11 November 2015 – For months, health care providers in the Gaza Strip have had insufficient laboratory material for testing 2 important congenital diseases that could lead to serious development problems — phenylketonuria and neonatal hypothyroidism. The tests should be performed within 2 weeks after birth for immediate interventions. Roughly 5000 tests are needed every month. However, because of the lack of new supplies of laboratory materials, the Ministry of Health in Gaza has been forced to store screening samples due to months-long shortages of the necessary laboratory reagents. There is currently a backlog of 30 000 blood samples taken from Gaza newborn infants.
With a few exceptions, when emergency testing material supplies were used, pediatricians are receiving test results 4 to 5 months after birth, which delays the start of treatment when needed. According to Dr Iman, a pediatrician in Al Rimal Clinic in Gaza City, which tests all samples in the Gaza Strip, two thirds of which are from UNRWA clinics, priority for testing is being given for “infants from families who are known carriers for either condition, rather than putting them on the waiting list.” However, not even priority cases are currently being tested. Phenylketonuria screenings in the West Bank have been stopped since August due to laboratory shortages of reagents.
The Ministry of Health appeals frequently to United Nations agencies and donors for emergency supplies but such procurements cannot be either timely or sustainable. In May 2015, the Ministry of Health in Gaza appealed to UNICEF for an emergency shipment of the testing kits, which are not expected to arrive before November.
This situation takes place in the context of continuous shortages in medicines and medical supplies at public health facilities, more pronounced in Gaza, but also significant in the West Bank, as a result of funding gaps in the Ministry of Health in Ramallah. In August, 28% of essential medicines (and 36% of medical disposables) were at zero stock level in Gaza; shortages were particularly high for laboratory reagents (40%). The Ministry of Health in Ramallah reported that 19% of essential and complementary medicines (102 of 547 items) were at zero stock in the West Bank, which supplies Gaza facilities as well. The average drug zero stock for 2015 in the West Bank was 23%.
Source: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Bulletin, September 2015