One of UNICEF’s leading priorities across the world is to ensure that every child has the best possible start to life - a safe birth, sound care in their earliest years, and good nutrition.
But these priorities face some of the toughest challenges in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) where despite major improvements in the last 10 years in the health system, sustaining high immunization coverage beyond 90% is a major challenge.
This is due to Israeli military imposed closures and curfews hampering access of health care professionals. A UNICEF supported sero-survey showed that while more than 9 out of 10 children under-five years of age received measles vaccination, less than 2/3 have acquired the needed immunity.
More than 25 infants per every 1,000 of those born alive die before the age of one in oPt. A geographical difference exists between the West Bank and Gaza Strip as well.
More than 21 and 31 infants per every 1,000 of those born alive die before the age of one in West Bank and Gaza Strip respectively. This is due to the worsening living conditions and increased poverty rates in the Gaza strip in comparison with the West Bank.
Pre-maturity and low birth weight, congenital malformations, and pneumonia and other respiratory diseases are the most common deaths among infants less than one year old.
The nutritional status of children in oPt remains the same. 3 out of 10 children under five years of age are anaemic. Stunting (height for age) stands at 9.0% and wasting (weight for height) at 2.5%.
The high levels of stunting are likely due to a protein-deficient diet caused by increasing difficulties Palestinian families are facing in obtaining healthy foods – with less than half of Palestinian children having access to foods such as chicken, meat, fish and legumes on a regular basis.
Children of mothers with higher education and children of families with a high standard of living had less stunting than those with less educated mothers and those from families with a low standard of living.
To address health and nutrition needs, UNICEF guaranteed that every child in oPt was vaccinated and provided all available vaccines. An emergency measles immunization campaign with the administration of Vitamin A was conducted for half a million children in the age group 9 months to 5 years.
Caregivers were empowered with knowledge for the prevention of illnesses and immediate response in frontline areas, particularly important, as access problems prevent caregivers from reaching medical facilities with their children.
UNICEF also provided safe water storage devices and community awareness on hygiene promotion for approximately 50,000 people in Rafah.
Essential micronutrient supplementation was provided for children and women at childbearing age in areas where the risk of micronutrient deficiencies increased due to the degradation of services and food insecurity.