Palestinian children wounded in Israel strikes are brought to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Ali Mahmoud)

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency (UNFPA), and the World Health Organization (WHO) have issued a warning regarding the disproportionate impact of the escalation of hostilities in the occupied Palestinian territory on women, children, and new-borns in Gaza. As of 3 November, Ministry of Health data indicates that 2326 women and 3760 children have been killed in the Gaza strip, constituting 67% of all casualties, with thousands more injured. This alarming situation has resulted in reduced access to health services and severe disruptions in maternal, new-born, and child health services due to damaged or non-functioning health facilities, massive displacement, collapsing water and electricity supplies, and restricted access to food and medicines.

The escalating crisis has left an estimated 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza, with more than 180 giving birth daily. However, the closure of 14 hospitals and 45 primary health care centers has left many women without access to emergency obstetric services, forcing some to give birth in shelters, homes, or on the streets amidst dire conditions. The lack of adequate care is expected to lead to an increase in maternal deaths, while the psychological toll of the conflict has resulted in stress-induced miscarriages, stillbirths, and premature births. Malnutrition among pregnant women was already high before the escalation, further impacting childhood survival and development. With limited access to food and water, mothers struggle to feed their families, increasing the risks of malnutrition, disease, and death.

The lives of new-borns are also at risk, with hospitals facing critical shortages of fuel that threaten the lives of approximately 130 premature babies dependent on neonatal and intensive care services. Moreover, over half of Gaza’s population is now sheltering in UNRWA facilities under dire conditions, lacking adequate water and food supplies, leading to hunger, malnutrition, dehydration, and the spread of waterborne diseases.

Despite challenges, UN agencies have dispatched essential medicines and equipment to Gaza, including supplies for new-borns and reproductive health care. However, there is an urgent need for sustained and safe access to bring more medicines, food, water, and fuel into Gaza. No fuel has entered the Gaza Strip since 7 October, making it imperative for aid agencies to receive immediate fuel supplies to support hospitals, water plants, and bakeries.

An immediate humanitarian pause is crucial to alleviate the suffering and prevent the situation from becoming catastrophic. All parties involved in the conflict must adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including healthcare facilities. It is essential to ensure that all civilians, including hostages in Gaza, have access to healthcare, and hostages must be released without delay or conditions. Specifically, children must be protected from harm and provided with the special protection guaranteed under international humanitarian and human rights laws.

Source: WHO


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