The infant mortality rate in Gaza has risen for the first time in more than half a century, a new study by the UN aid agency for Palestinian refugees says.
“The number of babies dying before the age of one has consistently gone down over the last decades in Gaza, from 127 per 1,000 live births in 1960 to 20.2 in 2008. At the last count, in 2013, it had risen to 22.4 per 1,000 live births,” a statement from the UNRWA relief agency released at the weekend said.
“Every five years UNRWA conducts a survey of infant mortality across the region, and the 2013 results were released this week,” it said, adding that because of the data it would conduct a new Gaza-specific survey this year.
It said that neonatal mortality in Gaza, the number of babies who die before four weeks old, rose from 12 per 1,000 live births in 2008 to 20.3 in 2013.
The statement quoted Akihiro Seita, director of the agency’s health program, as saying that the sudden upswing was unprecedented in the Middle East.
“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, to ensure the increase could be confirmed,” he said.
“That is why it took us so long to release these latest figures.”
He suggested that Israel’s blockade of the coastal strip, where close to 45 percent of the population is under 14 years old, could be a contributing factor.
“It is hard to know the exact causes behind the increase in both neonatal and infant mortality rates, but I fear it is part of a wider trend,” he said.
“We are very concerned about the impact of the long-term blockade; on health facilities, supplies of medicines and bringing equipment in to Gaza.”
Israel imposed its blockade on the Gaza Strip in 2007 after the Hamas movement took power there.
Last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas was the third in Gaza in six years, and by far the deadliest and most destructive of the three.
More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed, the vast majority civilians, including more than 500 children.
Large swathes of Gaza remain in ruin and work has not yet begun on the reconstruction of some 18,000 homes that were totally destroyed or severely damaged during the war.
The commissioner general of UN relief agency UNRWA, Pierre Krahenbuhl, warned last month that the root causes of the conflict remain unaddressed.
“The despair, destitution and denial of dignity resulting from last year’s war and from the blockade are a fact of life for ordinary people in Gaza.”
Krahenbuhl added: “In an increasingly unstable Middle East, neglecting the needs and rights of the people of Gaza is a risk the world should not be taking.”
(Ma’an and agencies – www.maannews.com)