Being pregnant in Gaza

It’s a race against death amid the relentless bombardment in Gaza, » say the pregnant women. […] I sleep in the street, just as you found me. The situation here is unbearable, » says a pregnant woman who is due to give birth in a few weeks. » UNFPA, October 27.

« Our aspirations were reduced to the simple search for drinking water and food. The times when we managed to get drinking water seemed luxurious. […] Only one bakery under contract with the WFP has fuel to produce bread, compared with 23 bakeries at the start of the emergency response. » World Food Program, November 2, 2023.

The figures: « An estimated 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza are currently trapped by the conflict, of whom 5,500 will give birth in the coming month, representing more than 160 deliveries every day. More than 840 pregnant women could suffer complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. Most of these women no longer have access to the services they need to give birth safely: hospitals are overwhelmed by the number of victims and are running out of fuel for their generators, medicines and basic supplies, including for the management of obstetric emergencies. » UNFPA, October 31, 2023.

« Thousands of children have been killed, and thousands more injured. As a result of the escalation of hostilities, children and families in Gaza are deprived of water, food, fuel, medicine and other essential goods, including safe access to hospitals […] Children are dying at an alarming rate and their fundamental rights are being violated. […] Children are dying at an alarming rate and their fundamental rights are being violated. It is imperative to protect civilians, and children in particular, and to avoid targeting them at all costs, whatever the circumstances. Even wars have rules. » UNICEF, November6, 2023.

Needs are constantly increasing, and on average only 33 trucks of humanitarian aid a day enter the Gaza Strip to meet all requirements. It would take 10 times as many to meet these needs. Indeed, from October 21 to November 6, only 569 truckloads of aid entered. UNRWA, reportn°24 of November7, 2023.

« Last night, Gaza was targeted by bombardments and ground operations by Israeli forces of unprecedented intensity, taking this terrible crisis to a new level of violence and pain. Israeli strikes on telecoms facilities and the subsequent cut-off of Internet access have only compounded the despair and suffering of civilians in Gaza. The inhabitants have no way of knowing what is happening in Gaza and are cut off from the outside world. […] The humanitarian and human rights consequences will be devastating and long-lasting. Thousands of people have already died, many of them children. Given the way military operations have been carried out so far, in the context of a 56-year-old occupation, I am sounding the alarm about the catastrophic consequences… » Statement by Volker Türk, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, October 28, 2023.

« Around 1.5 million people in Gaza are internally displaced persons (IDPs). [Thousands of cases of acute respiratory infections, diarrhea and chickenpox have been reported among refugees in UNRWA shelters. […] According to the WHO, due to a lack of medical equipment, hospitals in the north are performing complex surgical operations, including amputations, without anesthesia. » OCHA, report n°32, November 7.

In this particular and general context, how can Gaza’s 50,000 pregnant women escape the trap? We are gradually returning to an old-style public health system where maternal mortality at birth was counted in 1 per 100 births, not 1 per 100,000 births (currently 4 deaths per 100,000 births in Israel).

The graphic. Unfortunately, the overall trend, although showing a slight dip, remains very high. Although a reporting failure cannot be ruled out, the causes of this downturn include: the most fragile are disappearing, the survivors are learning to protect themselves and survive, and a little help is coming in. The ferocity of the bombardments, the real lack of everything and a mortality rate that is gradually transforming from immediate to delayed: the wounded and sick die, but not immediately, many for lack of adequate care. For children, the findings remain the same, and the mortality curve, compared with adults, is getting steadily steeper. Let’s never forget that behind the dryness of the figures, we’re dealing with immense pain.

Graphs based on data published by the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health and OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs). Let’s be clear: the producers of these figures say that it’s  » at least « , i.e. only those they can count.

Christophe de Brouwer

Honorary full professor and former chair of the School of Public Health at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. (November 8, 2023)

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