Health conditions worsening in Gaza as borders remain closed – UN agency

Uncontrolled dumping of rubbish pose the greatest environmental and public health risks to residents of Gaza (file photo)

22 May 2009 – The deteriorating health situation in Gaza has been intensified by Israel’s blockade of crossings into the area, the United Nations agency tasked with assisting Palestinian refugees warned today.

Even before Israel’s military offensive targeting Hamas militants on the tiny strip of land earlier this year, which killed over 1,400 people and injured 5,000 others, the border closures had a grave impact on the health of Gazans and the ability of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to provide health services.

According to the agency’s latest health report, some 4,000 medical items per day on average could cross into Gaza before the conflict, whereas only 40 items are currently allowed to be imported daily.

UNRWA also reported that restrictions on building supplies have resulted in damaged health care centres being left in a state of disrepair and a scarcity of paper has led to difficulties in keeping medical records.

The new report also voiced deep concern over the lack of adequate food to children, and said that on top of widespread unemployment, no petrol or diesel has been delivered to Gaza and only very limited amounts of cooking gas has made it into the Strip since 2 November, causing anaemia in 30 per cent of children below 36 months of age and 50 per cent of pregnant women.

Guido Sabatinelli, UNRWA Director of Health, told reporters in Geneva today that the agency forecasted a 25 per cent shortfall in its biennium budget for 2009-2010. Since needs were expanding, the agency said it would be obliged to suspend some of its services next year, including hospital closures.

Mr. Sabatinelli said that the UNRWA health budget was $80 million to provide for 4 million persons, or $20 per person per year, which is well below the recommendation by the World Health Organization (WHO) of $60 per person as an absolute minimum.


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