Photo Credit: Gigi Ibrahim via Flickr
Doctor attending to a baby at Shifaa Hospital, Gaza

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) periodically estimates infant mortality rates (IMR) among the Arabs in its Gaza Strip camps. These surveys recorded a decline from 127 per 1000 live births before the Israeli takeover in 1967, to 20.2 in 2006 – a few months after Israel had unilaterally left the Strip.

A survey in 2006 revealed an IMR of 22.2. A survey conducted in 2011, following five years under Hamas rule, revealed an IMR of 22.4. And a survey in 2013, estimated the IMR at 22.7.

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Alerted by these findings, a follow up survey was conducted in 2015 to further assess the trend of IMR. It found, according to a new UNRWA report published on Wednesday (Stalled decline in infant mortality among Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip since 2006), that the mortality rate in infants in the refugee camps has not declined since 2006.

Infant mortality refers to deaths of young children, typically those less than one year of age, measured by the IMR, which is the number of deaths of children under one year of age per 1000 live births. IMR is an indicator used by the UN to monitor progress in the efforts to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. Meaning, the higher your IMR, the lower are the chances that the rest of the population is healthy.

According to the Director of UNRWA’s Health Department, Dr Akihiro Seita, the new findings are “an extraordinary warning sign, an alarming trend in the overall situation not only of health for infants but also the health of entire Palestine refugee population in Gaza. Moreover, it is a warning sign on the overall social and economic situation of Gaza, as the Palestine refugees account for more than seventy per cent of the entire populations in Gaza. Infant mortality is a barometer of the health of an entire population.”

An UNRWA press release issued on Wednesday says, “In Gaza, the socioeconomic situation has deteriorated dramatically in the past decade following the imposition of the blockade and subsequent conflicts.” The statement does not mention either of the players – neither Hamas nor Israel, but stresses that “the blockade has affected the health sector in Gaza, as hospitals continue to lack adequate physical infrastructure, drugs, supplies, and infection prevention material.”

The statement does not mention the recent rejection, by armed and masked Islamic Jihad terrorists of medical supply trucks sent into Gaza by Israel’s MDA.

Not mentioning the Palestinian Authority by name either, the UNRWA statement suggests “it is reasonable to assume that the unstable power supply, the deteriorating functionality of medical equipment, the periodic shortages of essential drugs and medical consumables have had an impact on the quality of medical care with a consequent impact on infant mortality.”

The report itself, however, does mention Israel by name, pinning on it the full responsibility for the dying Gaza infants crisis, because it has imposed a strict blockade on the Hamas ruled Gaza Strip. It is safe to say that as long as the rogue elephant in the room is identified and some action is taken to impede the Hamas government’s insistence on directing its efforts to the destruction of Israel instead of the preservation of their infants’ lives, those babies will continue to die at an ever increasing rate.

The report notes that “Infant mortality rates in Israel and Gaza have been widely divergent. Infant mortality in Israel fell below 20 per 1000 live births in 1977, and most recent estimates show a rate of 3 per 1000 in 2015. In the West Bank, IMR is usually slightly lower than in Gaza. In 2014, an IMR of 17 was documented for infants born in the West Bank. In addition, the IMR in Egypt was 18 per 1000 live births in 2015.”

“In conclusion, the mortality rate among infants of Palestine refugees in Gaza has not shown a decline since 2006,” according to the report. “The rise of neonatal mortality in the previous survey was not confirmed. Stagnation of infant and neonatal mortality rates indicates that further investigation is needed to understand how the stalled decline in IMR can be addressed.”

The report warns that “in the absence of a healthier political and socioeconomic situation, and with recent drop in financial funding for UNRWA, it is likely to remain challenging to reduce infant mortality in Gaza.”

Alas, the UNRWA study did not suggest the solution of sending an international military contingency into the Gaza Strip to arrest the Hamas leadership for war crimes. It is virtually guaranteed that the surefire method to decrease infant mortality in Gaza is by increasing Hamas mortality.

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