Essential medicines and solar refrigerators help save and protect children’s lives in the Gaza Strip

Like much of the rest of the world, Gaza has seen a decline in its infant mortality rate in the last ten years – except among new-born infants.

13 September 2017

By Charmaine Seitz

GAZA, State of Palestine, 13 September 2017 - Sick children in the Gaza Strip are finding it harder to obtain the lifesaving medicine they need due to ingoing shortages. They also find it increasingly harder to obtain the referrals they need to seek specialized treatment outside the coastal enclave, resulting in untenable treatment delays and, sometimes, putting some children’s lives at risk.

Parents of children with cystic fibrosis, just one disease that requires regular medication for survival, are spending sleepless nights worrying about how their children will obtain essential drugs now that funding has been reduced.

Stockpiles of critical medications have become so depleted that more than one-third are unavailable for use. In several documented cases, children have died while waiting for treatment.

“I don’t want my children to die,” says 28-year-old Huda El Minawi, carrying her youngest, a four year-old little girl named Sahar, on her hip. “I want them to live and grow up and go to college and have their own families.”

UNICEF has provided USD $160,000 in funding to bridge the gap in essential drugs, medical consumables and solar-powered refrigerators to health facilities. Equipped with alarm systems, the refrigerators are essential to maintain the vaccines cold chain and ensure that these vaccines don’t deteriorate but provide efficient protection to children.

These short-term solutions cannot mask the need for a longer-term solution for the electricity supply in the Gaza Strip, where power is only available 4-6 hours a day.

Deteriorating health conditions 

Two of Minawi’s three children have cystic fibrosis. Her son, Fadi, was sickly after birth and struggled with extremely low weight. When he was finally diagnosed with the progressive genetic disease, Huda was told that he must take medicine for the rest of his life. Without it, Fadi is susceptible to repeated and successive lung infections that make it difficult to breath and hard to survive.  

Huda, then only 17, was afraid to have more children, despite knowing that they might not carry the disease. Her second child, a healthy boy, is disease-free, but the girl, her third, also has cystic fibrosis. Each month, the two children need 900 pills of pancrelipase (CREON), a replacement for pancreatic enzymes, to survive, along with regular treatments from a nebulizer*.

“With one [nebulizer] device and only four hours of electricity daily, I am barely able to do anything for my children,” Huda laments.

Due to the on-going power crisis, which has worsened since April, lifesaving hospital equipment such as incubators and dialysis machines are often run by emergency generators which were never meant to be used for so many hours daily. The lack of power also threatens access to pumped safe drinking water, increasing the prevalence of waterborne and other infectious diseases.

Those who cannot be treated in the Gaza Strip must apply for permission to be treated elsewhere. In 2016 more than one-fourth of applications each month were delayed on average and one per cent were outright denied. As the situation deteriorates in the Gaza Strip, children are most vulnerable to tragic outcomes.

Like much of the rest of the world, Gaza has seen a decline in its infant mortality rate in the last ten years – except among new-born infants. Doctors find it hard to turn that trend around without the basic medications and lifesaving equipment required for treating their patients. Health remains a daily challenge for children and their anguished parents in the Gaza Strip.