District family health survey puts numbers to policy concerns
By Charmaine Seitz
JENIN, 21 July 2008 - Down a Jenin side street, teenage boys bend over pool tables in a dimly-lit warehouse. Many of the teens are from nearby villages, whiling away the summer days in the town's coffee shops.
"There isn't anything like this in 'Arana," says Muhammad 'Omari, 16, of his own village. "Sports, coffee shops and other things."
They are bored, and like nearly six percent of boys ages 10-19 in the Jenin district, they are casual smokers.
A few blocks away, the prevalence of teenage smoking in Jenin is being discussed by roomful of policy makers. For the first time ever, they are able to use the results of a Palestinian Family Health Survey, funded by UNICEF, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and league of Arab States (LAS): Pan Arab Family Health Project to promote policy and development programming on a local/district level.
While talking to young people about their lives provides hints of planning needs, the new survey gives a clear picture of the status of major indicators.
The survey, carried out in 2006 by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), is a national survey, covering the whole of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The focus of the meeting, has however on one of the eight districts, (four in the West Bank and four in the Gaza Strip), with poor quality of life indicators which show the areas most affected by the conflict. The quality of life indicators included health, education and water and sanitation.
This survey "is very important for the strategic plan," explains Khalid Abu Khalid, PCBS Director for the Health Statistics Department. "When we put our hands on the trends in society, it helps to directly resolve the problems."
While the survey found some positive developments, smoking – particularly teenage smoking -- is higher in Jenin than other districts. More than one out of every five individuals in Jenin smoke.
In addition, while over 99 per cent of Jenin's newborns receive the necessary vaccinations, matching similar rates elsewhere in the occupied Palestinian territories, only 22 per cent of new mothers receive post-natal care. And unfortunately, more new mothers in Jenin receive post-natal care than in most other districts in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt).
"What can we do to stop this trend?" asked UNICEF Planning and Evaluation Specialist Oladimeji Olowu. "Why are women not going back to the clinic for post-natal care?"
Mr. Olowu noted that the survey has answered the question of WHAT is happening, however the question of WHY is it happening is still unknown. PCBS and other stakeholders can help collect this type of information. Also, the PalInfo database, which the PCBS is managing will be an excellent tool too house/keep all data and statistics, studies, surveys and evaluations regarding the oPt, and monitor progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This will be of tremendous use for programme planners and managers; donors; policy/decision makers, civil society organizations and other stakeholders.
Government officials, medical professionals and humanitarian agency representatives heard a presentation on the survey's findings and discussed how they could inform strategic planning.
"We want to see where there are weaknesses, and how we can change," said Jenin's top health official, Dr. Muhammad Abed. He thought that post-natal care for women could be tied to clinic visits for child vaccinations, for example, where Palestinians have had overwhelming success in meeting their goals.
Every three years, UNICEF carries out multi-indicator cluster surveys to monitor progress on the MDGs. The international body has set the date of 2015 to try to achieve these goals around the world.
This Palestinian family health survey is unique, however, because it provided for the first time ever data at the sub-national (district level). This was only possible because it was conducted jointly with UNFPA and LAS says UNICEF Monitoring Specialist Bana Kaloti.
"Our planning has always been at national level," says UNICEF project officer –Jenin, Mr. Naim Sadi. "For the first time ever, we are strategically planning at district levels involving community”.
Data collection began at the end of 2006, analysis and dissemination of the report was completed in 2007.
This workshop is the first of a series of dissemination workshops of the Palestinian family health survey. Similar dissemination workshops to promote district level planning, will be held in each of the eight districts with poor quality of life indicators to announce the results, and to start a conversation among the various stakeholders about setting strategic goals accordingly. The other targeted districts for district planning are Hebron, Ramallah/al-Bireh, and Nablus in the West Bank, and Gaza City, Northern Gaza, Deir Balah and Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip.
One way the results could be incorporated, says Mr.Chekir, UNFPA Representative, would be for planning officials to develop scenarios based on the survey's results and expected population growth. "Maybe they need five additional midwives a year," he told the group. "We have the capacity here to train them".
Jenin Assistant Governor Abdullah Barakat said that committees would be established to follow up on what next to do, to respond to the survey results. "NGOs, the government and the private sector each have their roles to play," he said.