At a glance: State of Palestine

Delivering maternal and child health services in hard-to-reach West Bank communities

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF OPT/2009/Qadi
Mothers in Jbara learn about the importance of breastfeeding at a health session organized by UNICEF and the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

By Loa Magnusdottir

JBARA, Occupied Palestinian Territory, 26 May 2009 – Nestled in a small crook of land, surrounded by the barrier between the West Bank and Israel, sits the community of Jbara, home to nearly 300 people.

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Today there is a rush of activity in one of the larger houses. Posters are pinned on clotheslines and a health education session is under way in the garden.
 
For the first time since the barrier enclosed this community in 2002, UNICEF has been able to arrange a long-awaited visit from health workers. It builds upon work with the Ministry of Health to bring vaccinations and rudimentary care to marginalized and enclosed communities in the West Bank.

Through these visits, UNICEF aims to broaden the range of basic but life-saving child care practices and help mothers living in isolated enclaves. 

Overcoming obstacles

The barrier not only separates Jbara from other villages and basic services, such as schools and health centres, but has also separated the people of nearby Tulkarem from their farmlands in Jbara.

Permits are required to enter and leave Jbara, and crossing through the military gates is often a difficult and time-consuming process. Conflict, as well as access and movement restrictions, have led to losses of jobs and rising poverty.

By 2008, half of Palestinian households were living in poverty, according to the UN Development Programme.

“The challenge remains reaching isolated communities in restricted areas,” said UNICEF Health and Nutrition Officer Samson Agbo. “Families have gotten much poorer very quickly, and children are the most susceptible to the impact of household poverty.”

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF OPT/2009/Magnusdottir
A young Palestinian girl in Jbara is on her way home after receiving a check-up from a visiting paediatrician.

A sombre feeling

Earlier in the day, a team from the Ministry of Health had given out water purification tablets and talked about the importance of proper hygiene and sanitation. Lack of sanitation facilities and a functioning sewage system is a growing concern.

“The community... must discharge the untreated sewage in to the fields,” says local resident Na'da Awad. “This has increased the risk of disease and infections, as well as allergies and skin lesions.” 

As the small children play together in the garden, there is a sombre feeling. “There are no recreation facilities available to the children here,” says one mother. “There is not much around to inspire them to play.”

Across the West Bank and Gaza, UNICEF is providing basic vaccines and immunization-related supplies, as well as vitamin A, vitamin D and iron supplements, as well as increasing knowledge on basic nutrition practices and strengthening health workers' capacity for infant and child care. With these interventions, UNICEF aims to raise the number of children benefiting from early childhood development, with a special emphasis on children in hard-to-reach areas such as the Jbara community.


 

 

Video

30 April 2009: UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on UNICEF's efforts to deliver maternal and child health services in the hard-to-reach West Bank community of Jbara.
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