Urgently needed medications give new-borns infants better chance at life

There is very little standing between children and life-threatening illness

New-born babies
UINCEF SOP/ Eyad al-Baba
13 September 2017

By Charmaine Seitz

GAZA, State of Palestine, 13 September 2017 - In hospitals in the Gaza Strip, a growing crisis is threatening the very youngest patients. Stockpiles of critical medications have become so depleted that more than one-third are unavailable for use.

“There is very little standing between children and life-threatening illness,” says Younis Awadallah, UNICEF’s Health officer in Gaza. “The shortage of drugs can cause a rapid deterioration in cases, thereby increasing the possibilities of complications and death and increasing mortality rates.”

For infants only hours old, access to antibiotics, fluids and working incubators is urgent and saves lives. Half of all new-born deaths in the Gaza Strip occur in the first 24 hours after birth.

This is why UNICEF has partnered with the Near East Council of Churches (NECC) to provide 4,000 new-born infants at four hospitals in Gaza with medications, disposables and other direly needed supplies.

The project, funded by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), seeks to fill a growing gap in the chronic shortage in medical supplies that has plagued the coastal enclave for the last ten years.

Chronic shortages

Central pharmacies in the Gaza Strip seek to maintain a certain amount of critical drugs and equipment in order to meet the needs of its two million residents, half of which are children.

However in the past ten years, there has been a shortfall in the available pharmaceuticals and disposables needed for treating common and urgent conditions. Funding has been further reduced this year, further increasing the gap. Health officials in Gaza says that the current situation threatens the lives of some new-borns in neonatal intensive care units.

Purchasing life-saving drugs

UNICEF is helping to ease the crisis by providing some of the missing items, including antibiotics, analgesics, critical fluids, and post-operative and obstetric medications. It is also ensuring that 2,500 women who have high-risk pregnancies are visited at home and receive care together with their new-born infants, and that any health problems are treated right away.

An on-going power crisis, coupled with a water and sanitation crisis, limits access to electricity to four to six hours a day, meaning that lifesaving hospital equipment such as incubators and dialysis machines are often run using emergency generators which were never meant to be used for so many hours daily. The lack of power also threatens access to pumped water, increasing the prevalence of waterborne disease.

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. This is why making sure that children born into the Gaza Strip have a fighting chance at life in a difficult environment remains more essential than ever.