Gaza infant mortality rises for first time in 53 years — UN

Deaths in children under 1 year of age climbed from 20.2 to 22.4 per 1,000 births from 2008 to 2013, UN’s refugee agency says

Illustrative photo of a premature baby at a hospital in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a premature baby at a hospital in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The infant mortality rate in Gaza has risen for the first time in more than half a century, a new study by the United Nation’s 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,” according to a statement from the UNRWA relief agency released over the weekend.

“Every five years UNRWA conducts a survey of infant mortality across the region, and the 2013 results were released this week,” continued the report, 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 Egypt and 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,” continued Seita.

“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 2006, after the Islamist terrorist group Hamas captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, to prevent the import of weapons for use against Israel. It further tightened controls a year later when Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, consolidated its rule there.

A 50-day war between Israel and Hamas in July-August 2014 killed about 2,200 Palestinians, according to health officials in the Gaza Strip, and 73 on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers, and destroyed or damaged tens of thousands of homes in the impoverished coastal territory. Among the Gaza dead were more than 500 children, according to UN figures.

Israel says almost half of the dead were combatants, and blames Hamas for all civilian deaths since it emplaced its rocket launchers and dug attack tunnels in residential areas.

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