Reaching the most vulnerable children in the State of Palestine

For 10-year old Beisan, who sits on a wheelchair, life in the herding community of Wadi al-Faw, in the northern part of Jordan Valley, is a daily challenge.

Monica Awad
boy smiling
UINCEF SOP/ Ahed Izhiman
06 September 2016

Tubas, West Bank, 6 September 2016 – For 10-year old Beisan, who sits on a wheelchair, life in the herding community of Wadi al-Faw, in the northern part of Jordan Valley, is a daily challenge.

“Life is really tough in this part of the West Bank”, says, Beisan.  “Going and coming back from school is difficult, and being on a wheelchair is a double burden, yet I am determined to learn”, she adds

Wadi al-Faw, a small herding community, is located opposite the Israeli settlement of Maskiyyot in Area C of the West Bank, which is under Israeli administrative and security control.  It is home to some 50 people who originally migrated from Yatta village, an area south of the West Bank where Bedouin communities are common. 

“Luckily, we are able to access health and education services in the nearest town of Tubas”, says Beisan’s mother Yusra. 

The families living in Wadi al-Faw are among the most vulnerable communities in the West Bank, living in tents that are poorly equipped to protect them from the heat or the cold, placing them and their children at an increased risk of diseases.

Yet, recently, with funding from the Government and People of Japan, UNICEF and its partners supported Wadi al-Faw with safe drinking water through installation of a water filling point in Al Maleh, a nearby community.  “The installation of a nearby filling point not only reduced the cost of water, but also reduced the time needed to transport it”, adds Yusra. 

Reducing missed opportunities

Yusra has four children, the oldest of whom is 10-year old Beisan, and the youngest two-year old Adam. Beisan cannot walk due to a congenital defect of the spine, which may be linked to the fact that Yusra married her cousin. She tenderly loves her children and is keen not only on protecting them from diseases, but also on ensuring that they complete their education.

Showing the “Mother and Child” handbook she was given when her son Adam was born, Yusra stresses that one of the first duties she had to fulfill as a mother was having her children vaccinated. The book reminds parents of when they should have their children immunized, and provides them with simple educational tools on breast feeding and young child feeding practices.

In past days, immunization was no simple matter. In another tent sits 80-year old Jabriyyeh and her 90-year old husband Ahmed, trying to protect themselves from the heat wave.  Jabriyyeh does not recall that she was ever vaccinated.  “These days, mothers are able to vaccinate their children free of charge, while during our time, many children died because we did not have proper health services”. 

Immunization, a national pride

Since 1994, the Palestinian Ministry of Health has been working to harmonise and improve the expanded programme on immunization (EPI) with support from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

“In the past, the immunization programme was fragmented.  It was led separately by UNRWA and the Government, and between the West Bank and Gaza. We worked to unify and harmonise these separate programmes, resulting in one unified national EPI”, says Dr. Asad Ramlawi, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Health.

Multiple vaccines are now delivered to refugee and non-refugee children alike, reaching even the most remote, marginalized communities, through the national EPI programme. This has turned the Palestinian EPI into one of the most prominent and successful programmes in the Middle East and North Africa.

“Together with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), UNICEF, WHO and the private health sector, we developed an electronic data system for surveillance and monitoring, we refurbished the cold chain system and we trained our primary health care workers on improved immunization services," Ramlawi adds with pride.

Thanks to efforts spanned over two decades, the State of Palestine has achieved historical milestones in the field of immunisation.  According to Ministry of Health records, there have been no reported cases of rubella, neonatal tetanus, diphtheria and tuberculosis among children for years, and Palestine has been certified as a polio free country.

The EPI programme has reduced infant and child mortality rates and closed the immunization gap through the provision of free of charge vaccines for all children, including those living in the most marginalized communities. Recently new vaccines were successfully introduced such as the Rotavirus vaccine to protect children from severe diarrhea, and the pentavalent vaccine to protect them from five potentially deadly diseases such as Haemophilus Influenza, whooping cough, tetanus, hepatitis B and diphtheria.

More importantly, the State of Palestine has been able to become self-reliant in its vaccine procurement.

The vaccines are now purchased with funds allocated by the Palestinian Government, with UNICEF supporting the procurement and clearance processes.  On average, immunizing each Palestinian child costs USD 72.  “While this amount seems relatively high, it represents one of the Palestinian public health best buys and is the Government’s top priority for all children, refugee and non-refugee alike”, adds Ramlawi.

The programme has helped boost national development through direct medical savings and indirect economic benefits such as cognitive development, educational attainment, labour productivity, income, savings and investment. More importantly, it has helped save the lives of children so they can survive, thrive and reach their potential.