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Due to Israeli siege, Gaza infant mortality rate on the rise for first time in five decades

Israel/Palestine
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A new disturbing, yet revealing, report released by UNRWA on Saturday August 8 shows once again the toll the Israeli siege exacts on the Gaza population. In a press release, UNRWA announced that for the first time in five decades, the infant mortality rate in Gaza has reversed trend and risen, citing the blockade imposed on the strip as a factor which “may be contributing to the trend”.

According to UNRWA figures, the infant mortality rate, the number of live-born babies dying before the age of one, has consistently gone down over the past several decades in Gaza, from 127 per 1,000 live births in 1960 to 20.2 in 2008. At the last count in 2013, however, it had risen to 22.4 per 1,000 live births. The Gaza neonatal mortality rate, the number of babies that die before they reach four weeks, has also gone up significantly from 12 per 1,000 live births in 2008 to 20.3 in 2013. The figures date back to 2013, and predate the last, most brutal Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014.

“The rate had declined quite smoothly over the last decades across the region, including Gaza,” said Dr. Akihiro Seita, Director of the UNRWA health programe. “So when the 2013 results from Gaza were first uncovered, UNRWA was alarmed by the apparent increase. So we worked with external independent research groups to examine the data and ensure the increase could be confirmed. That is why it took us so long to release these latest figures.”

Infant mortality is one of the best indicators of the health status of a certain community, and it can also be used as a parameter for state performance. The rate is affected by a multitude of factors that are in play before the birth of the infant, and even before the mother is pregnant; those include nutrition, availability of infrastructure, housing conditions, clean water, existence of a coherent and stable health system, how a society performs socially and economically, vaccination, education — especially of mothers — political stability, war and conflict, and other factors.

As science and societies advance, IMR usually improves — slowly, but it does improve — and the trend is usually in the positive direction. “Progress in combatting infant mortality doesn’t usually reverse. This seems to be the first time we have seen an increase like this,” Dr. Seita said. “The only other examples I can think of are in some African countries which experienced HIV epidemics.”

The increase in Gaza IMR is the outcome of a near decade of strict blockade, where calorie counts, restrictions on movement, poverty, soaring unemployment, dependence on food aid, chronic power shortages, and sewage flooding the streets have become the norm, adding to that the collective toll of three major military operations. In those assaults, more than 4,000 Palestinians were killed, tens of thousands injured and hundreds of thousands traumatized. Health facilities paid a heavy price for the indiscriminate and sometimes intentional attacks on clinics and hospitals, and on top of that, tens of thousands of houses were destroyed, and hundreds of thousands were forced into temporary, unsanitary shelters, forcing an already vulnerable population into an even more difficult place.  Collectively, all of this, happening over the span of several years, in a small impoverished enclave which is said to be the most densely populated strip of land on the earth, led to mothers now having an unhealthy early life and consequently unhealthy pregnancies. In addition is has also led to a decreasing chance of infants being born strong enough to withstand and survive the collective punishment imposed on their society, and on them, since birth.

The next scheduled UNRWA region-wide survey of Palestine refugees is scheduled in 2018. However, because of the latest figures, UNRWA will conduct one this year in Gaza alone, where the impact of the latest, most destructive attack might show itself in the figures. In one case, the Al-Durra pediatrics hospital, which serves the eastern parts of Gaza city (a population of more than 200,000), was bombed early in July 2014 and it took until January 2015 to partially operate again. This was only possible with special permits to circumvent the ban on entry for construction material.

But why do Palestinians complain? Gaza IMR is still better than in a vast number of countries, including neighboring Arab countries! Well, international humanitarian law states that “To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the occupying power must ensure sufficient hygiene and public health standards, as well as the provision of food and medical care to the population under occupation”. The point of reference for comparison is not what is, but what should be. Gaza IMR is five times that in present-day Israel, while life expectancy for Palestinians is 10 years less than that of an Israeli occupier, which testifies to the troubling size of this man-made situation.

Moreover, by disrupting the slow-but-consistent improvement in IMR and health situation in the occupied lands, Israel brings billions of donor fund to waste, money which would have brought upon much a better outcome were it not the Israeli policies. If the international community will not stand against Israel for what it does to Palestinians, will donor countries at least try to stop it from wasting away their money?

Belal Dabour
About Dr. Belal Dabour

Dr. Belal Dabour is a Palestinian doctor and blogger in Gaza and a contributing author to "Gaza Silenced". He blogs at belalmd.wordpress.com.

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16 Responses

  1. Mondowise
    Mondowise
    August 17, 2015, 10:30 am

    makes me wonder why the international community, particularly the US, didn’t simply gather all the infants who died, put them all in a pile and just bombed the smithereens out of them, or even lined them up and opened live fire on them. i mean it would have been so much faster, more efficient, less expensive and just all around a hell of a lot easier.

    say what? oh?? you say those are most certainly NOT acceptable forms of murder, too gruesome, but slowly murdering them more surreptitiously this way is acceptable, even palatable to you???

    seriously???? i’m disgusted, appalled and horrified at the lack of effective action to stop israel from the heinous murdering of innocent Palestinians.

    murder is MURDER, period! whitewashing it with more subtle methods doesn’t change a damn thing, it is MURDER.

  2. Citizen
    Citizen
    August 17, 2015, 11:30 am

    I see the responsive hasbara now: If Gaza infant mortality only on rise after five decades, obviously there’s been no ethnic cleansing by Israel all this time.

  3. Les
    Les
    August 17, 2015, 11:40 am

    It’s Time to Admit It. Israeli Policy Is What It Is: Apartheid

    I used to be one of those people who took issue with the label of apartheid as applied to Israel. Not anymore.
    Bradley Burston Aug 17, 2015 2:23 PM

    What I’m about to write will not come easily for me.

    I used to be one of those people who took issue with the label of apartheid as applied to Israel. I was one of those people who could be counted on to argue that, while the country’s settlement and occupation policies were anti-democratic and brutal and slow-dose suicidal, the word apartheid did not apply.

    I’m not one of those people any…

    http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/a-special-place-in-hell/.premium-1.671538

    • Kris
      Kris
      August 17, 2015, 12:11 pm

      Thank you for this link, Les.

      I don’t subscribe to haaretz, but just found out how to access articles, like this one, that are behind a paywall. It’s very easy: http://cachedview.com

      • Les
        Les
        August 17, 2015, 2:22 pm

        Nor do I subscribe. I am sure lots of Mondoweiss people will appreciate your tip on how to read the entirety of Haaretz’s articles. Thanks again.

    • druid
      druid
      August 17, 2015, 4:05 pm

      I am originally from South Africa and I can tell you that what Israel has done to the Palestinians is a lot worse than the apartheid I saw, though it was bad as well!

  4. Kay24
    Kay24
    August 17, 2015, 1:00 pm

    Shouldn’t the international community be concerned about this, and working hard to help these poor people. This will be considered a sin by any religion. Those who attacked these people, which has resulted in such devastation and suffering, should be made to pay for this outrage.
    Perhaps the wealthy Jewish diaspora should pay for the destroyed homes, and help these people who keep suffering under this brutal occupation get some relief.

    • just
      just
      August 17, 2015, 1:26 pm

      “Shouldn’t the international community be concerned about this, and working hard to help these poor people.”

      Of course! But it’s people like Belal Dabour and his colleagues that do all of the heavy lifting with their heavy hearts, helping/healing hands, and often empty shelves & desperate conditions.

      Israel should be made to pay and pay and pay. Instead, the international community makes some sibilant murmurings at best and does nothing at all to hold them accountable. All Palestinians deserve international protection and help.

      “Progress in combatting infant mortality doesn’t usually reverse. This seems to be the first time we have seen an increase like this,” Dr. Seita said. “The only other examples I can think of are in some African countries which experienced HIV epidemics.”

      Gaza has experienced another kind of massive epidemic~ continued Israeli war crimes, Occupation, siege, and their frequent massacres.

      Thanks so much for addressing this devastating UNRWA report, Dr. Dabour. And thank you for all you do every single day @ al- Shifa and everywhere else in Gaza. A happy belated birthday, too.

  5. Kay24
    Kay24
    August 17, 2015, 5:04 pm

    “Israel should be made to pay and pay and pay.”

    Sure, like they made Germany pay and pay and pay. They know by now that victims of brutality and deliberate attacks, must pay for the consequences of their actions. I suppose the US and other nations are complicit in these crimes by not doing a thing to prevent it, and later protecting the aggressor.

  6. Mr Saigon
    Mr Saigon
    August 18, 2015, 2:47 am

    Did the author bother to read the actual report itself?

    In the UNWRA report it states that:

    “…post-neonatal mortality rate declined significantly and the infant mortality rate was only slightly higher. These estimates are based on small numbers of deaths, and the confidence intervals are wide, so the infant mortality rate could in fact be stable or continuing to decline.”.

    • Belal Dabour
      Belal Dabour
      August 18, 2015, 12:48 pm

      Mr. Saigon,
      The report puts the confidence interval at 95%, which is pretty much as high as researchers aim at usually.
      Second, I refer you to the 8th paragraph for further understanding. As I explain clearly, it is the trend that matters more than the absolute figures, and with it the fact that we, Palestinians, are under Israel’s contro, which makes the point of reference for comparison is not what is, but what should be, which is similar to IMR in Israel, not so far away from that.

      • just
        just
        August 18, 2015, 12:59 pm

        Thanks, Dr. Dabour. I thought you made things very clear in your article.

        My guess is that Mr. Saigon may have read some of the unfortunately always expected criticisms/denials of the devastating reports from some in the Israeli media like this one published in Arutz Sheva:

        http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/199277#.VdNisflViko

        Have a nice evening.

      • Mr Saigon
        Mr Saigon
        August 18, 2015, 11:46 pm

        Dr. Belal Dabour,

        The article is misrepresenting the content of the report by making conclusions, especially in the headline, that cannot be objectively made from it. E.g.

        “Due to Israeli siege, Gaza infant mortality rate on the rise for first time in five decades”

        The UNWRA report states that the sample covers “All multiparous mothers who came to the 22 UNRWA health centres to register their last-born child for immunization were asked if their preceding child was alive or dead.”. It does not state that it is a sample representative of the whole of Gaza. It simply does not make the conclusion that any estimated increase in the IMR are due to the Israeli siege. It’s as statistically invalid as concluding that due to the Egyptian and Israeli siege, the post-neonatal mortality rate decreased significantly in Gaza.

        The report even adds caveats, as I mentioned in a previous post, that due to the small number of deaths with low confidence interval, the IMR could in fact be stable or continuing its decline. If the IMR is on the increase, which is always a better assumption to work from, then it would be better to pay attention to the areas listed in the report on where improvements can be made rather than using the report for political purposes. Pointing the finger at the Israeli blockade and claim that Israel is somehow responsible for UNWRA run hospitals is not going to improve the IMR if the report doesn’t make such conclusions and by misrepresenting its content will only detract from any legitimate or valid points being made.

      • Belal Dabour
        Belal Dabour
        August 19, 2015, 4:43 am

        Israel is in fact responsible. That’s why I listed the factors that affect IMR, which you only need a small look to see that Israel’s siege touches upon each and every one of them, and that’s why I quoted the international humanitarian law.

        I am here on Mondoweiss to make political and humanitarian inferences from UNRWA’s scientific work, and yeah, I am here to point fingers at those I deem responsible for a situation which I not only read about but live on daily basis. If you’re not satisfied with UNRWA’s research work then talk to them. For me it is good research, and I tried to explain how and why, but I cannot force that conviction in your head.

        Thanks for you comments.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        August 19, 2015, 12:51 pm

        “My guess is that Mr. Saigon may have read some of the unfortunately always expected criticisms/denials of the devastating reports from some in the Israeli media like this one published in Arutz Sheva:”

        And “just” you must admit it was very nice of “Mr. Saigon” to come back and confirm your hunch so well.

      • just
        just
        August 19, 2015, 3:53 pm

        It certainly was exceedingly nice of him, Mooser.

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