A vital lifeline for babies born under tightening blockade

This month, the official in charge of public health in Gaza, Dr Majdi Dahir, raised the latest alarm in response to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in Gaza. “We don’t have the ability to deal with this,” he said.

With Gaza’s meagre healthcare resources and funding being diverted again toward pandemic response, the health of vulnerable groups, such as new-born babies, is made all the more precarious. Babies in Gaza are born in overburdened hospitals that face shortages of basic medical supplies and equipment, and a lack of skilled healthcare staff, as a result of 14 years of illegal closure and blockade, repeated military assaults and, now, the COVID-19 pandemic.

Worsening maternal malnutrition is increasing the rate of babies born premature and at low birthweight, and chronic electricity shortages and the frequent switching from mains to generator power causes damage to sensitive equipment such as incubators and ventilators.

In this challenging context, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) has been providing essential support to neonatal care services in Gaza since 2008. MAP provides neonatal life support training for doctors, nurses and midwives, and essential medicines, disposables and equipment to hospitals. From 2019 to 2021, 14,357 new-born babies were treated at the six neonatal intensive care units that MAP supports.

In 2021, the chairman of the Gaza Neonatal Network praised MAP’s contribution for having helped to lower the neonatal mortality rate (deaths in the first 28 days of life) in Gaza from 16.5 to 9.4 deaths per 1,000 live births in the previous five years. But despite this progress, neonatal mortality in blockaded and occupied Gaza remains significantly higher than in Israel, where the rate is 1.9 deaths per 1,000 live births.

“I waited for the day I could hug him and take him home”

Baby Ameer* was admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit at Nasser Hospital after being born prematurely at 29 weeks. He suffered from respiratory distress syndrome – where a baby's lungs are not fully developed and cannot provide enough oxygen, which causes breathing difficulties.

Doctors at the unit delivered oxygen to Ameer through a nasal canula and he received surfactant, provided by MAP, to manage the respiratory distress syndrome. “I visited the unit every day to see Ameer, and I waited for the day that I could hug him and take him home,” said Ameer’s mother Hanan*.

Ameer’s condition affected his eyes, causing retinopathy of prematurity which can lead to lifelong vision impairment and blindness. He received two injections of Avastin, also supplied by MAP, that fortunately fully healed both of his eyes.

After 35 days of intensive care, Ameer was discharged from the unit and was able to breathe independently and freely, without any complications in his eyes. “Thank God that MAP is here to provide us with these important drugs,” said Hanan. “Without them, Ameer would have lost his vision for life.” Six months on, Ameer is now a healthy and active baby.

Concerted action by the international community is urgently needed to end the blockade and closure that have so badly affected essential healthcare services in Gaza, and ensure that Palestinian children are given the best possible start in life. Until then, MAP’s support for neonatal care will remain a vital lifeline.

Please donate today to help MAP ensure that new-borns in Gaza receive the care and support they need.


*Names changed to protect the identities of those involved.

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