Postnatal home visits for the newborn child help improve survival in Gaza

For Jamila, trying to rebuild her life after the 2014 conflict in Gaza has been challenging.

Catherine Weibel and Sajy Elmughanni
02 February 2016

GAZA, State of Palestine, 2 February 2016 - For Jamila, trying to rebuild her life after the 2014 conflict in Gaza has been challenging.

At the peak of the hostilities, her family left their home in Shejaiya to seek shelter in a school. When they came back, there was nothing left.

Jamila’s house was one of thousands reduced to rubble in airstrikes and shelling. With her husband and six children, she started living in a tent erected near the ruins. Soon this flimsy shelter was also gone, having accidentally caught fire.

Thanks to a neighbor, the family moved to a small, dilapidated building, once the storage room of a gas station flattened during the hostilities. Lacking both windows and running water, the one-room apartment is stiflingly hot in summer and freezing in winter, but Jamila and her children have nowhere else to go.

One of the only pieces of furniture is a small baby cradle in which Suha, the latest addition to the family, faintly smiles. The baby girl, who is recovering from jaundice, has a fever. Her mother, who suffered from anemia after giving birth, worries about her children while trying to come to terms with the new lodging.

“Lots of insects and rats enter the room,” Jamila tells. “Once a snake came close to the children. These animals come from the sewage pipes which flood the street, and sometimes the room. The smell is terrible.”

Jamila’s children are covered with rashes. “They keep being stung by insects, at night they cannot sleep. We have no running water, so they can wash only once a week,” she says.

Seven-year-old Shahed, who tries to rock her little sister to sleep in the cradle, wishes she could go back in time.

“We used to have water and to take a shower every day,” she tells. “I used to visit my friends and they would visit me at home. Now we don’t have water and my friends no longer come. I want my life back. I wish we could go back home and start all over again.”

Today the family has visitors – two midwives came to check on Jamila and baby Suha, who are among nearly 6,000 mothers and newborns living in conflict-stricken areas of Gaza who benefited from UNICEF-supported postnatal home visits in 2015.

After a thorough check, the midwives tell Jamila that her condition has improved since they gave her nutritional supplements, but that she needs to take more.

“It is more important than ever to be able to follow mothers after they delivered their babies,” says Awatef Rhayad, one of the midwives, as she hands Jamila the nutritional tablets she needs.

“After the war, we saw an increased number of cases of miscarriages during the first semester of the pregnancy, and of babies who died in the last month of the pregnancy. We need to be able to follow up with mothers after they gave birth, even when they live far from health centers.”

The postnatal home visit programme of which they are part helps improve newborns’ survival and deliver effective elements of care.

Home visits help families in identifying newborn problems early, including signs of severe neonatal illness in the first week of life, and signs of anemia in mothers. They also help families in dealing with constraints to care seeking from appropriate providers.

The visits are useful to promote practices to keep the baby warm, promote exclusive breastfeeding and its early initiation, improve hygiene, increase awareness about the benefits of spacing pregnancies, and promote immunization of the newborns.

UNICEF works in partnership with the Ministry of Health and NGOS such as the Near East Council of Churches (NECC) and the Union of Health Work Committees (UHWC), in view of scaling up the programme and reach all at-risk mothers and their newborns across Gaza.

For little Suha, the visits proved useful. After conducting a physical check, the midwives tell Jamila the fever won’t last, and her baby daughter will soon be healthy.