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Opinion

The World Must Not Abandon the Mothers of Gaza

The Al-Helal Al-Emirati maternity hospital in Rafah is one of the last remaining functioning health facilities in southern Gaza. Midwives are delivering more than 70 babies per day in dire conditions and while drastically under-supplied. Credit: UNFPA Palestine/Bisan Ouda

UNITED NATIONS, May 10 2024 (IPS) - As millions of children and families celebrate their mothers, my thoughts turn to the pregnant women and new mothers our teams at UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, support in more than 130 countries around the world. And I hold in my heart all those who, tragically, will never live to see their newborns.

More than 800 women a day – one woman every two minutes – die needless deaths from entirely preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth. The situation is particularly dire for women and girls caught up in the world’s escalating crises and conflicts. Globally, more than half of all maternal deaths take place in countries affected by humanitarian crisis or fragility.

Natalia Kanem

In Gaza, women face appalling conditions before, during and after birth. At a moment when new life is beginning, what should be a moment of joy is being overshadowed by death, destruction and despair. Severely limited access to health services and emergency obstetric care put the lives of women and newborns at risk.

Today, major hospitals lie in ruins across Gaza and not a single health facility is fully operational following more than 440 attacks on health care since the war began in October.

At the Al-Helal Al-Emirati Maternity Hospital, one of Gaza’s few remaining health facilities and now the main facility for pregnant women in Rafah, at the time of writing there are only five beds for deliveries and around 60 deliveries every day. Women hoping to give birth on the ward are told to bring their own mattress and pillow.

“We are delivering babies nonstop,” says midwife Samira Hosny Qeshta. “We tell the woman who has just given birth: we need the bed. Get up and sit on a chair.”

Most women have had no prenatal care, she says. They just arrive at the hospital hoping for the best. Many are suffering from infections, due to the unhygienic living conditions in the overcrowded camps, where hundreds of people may share a single toilet and there is a lack of clean water and hygiene supplies.

“We live in a tent, and every time it rains the tent floods, and our beds get wet,” says Suhad. She is nine months pregnant and scheduled for a C-section. Hours later, she will be back in the tent.

“It will be extremely difficult after the birth,” she says. “From the physical pain to the ice cold – and there are no clothes for the baby. What has she done to be born into a situation like this?”

Even if their babies are delivered safely, thousands of women like Suhad face the inevitable question: What next? How will they keep their newborn clean, warm, fed, alive?

Many of these mothers are themselves too dehydrated and malnourished to breastfeed their children, and there is no formula to be had.

UNFPA has delivered reproductive health kits that have enabled safe births for more than 20,000 women in Gaza. We have set up a mobile maternity clinic in Rafah, with two more on the way. Hundreds of UNFPA-trained midwives are supporting pregnant women and new mothers unable to access a health clinic or hospital.

We have also distributed hygiene supplies, diapers, baby clothes, blankets and other essential items to thousands of new mothers. Yet all of this is just a drop in an ocean of need.

The world must not abandon the mothers of Gaza. They, their newborns, and all civilians must be protected and their needs met. Hospitals and health workers must never be targets.

From time immemorial, cultures across the globe have honoured the sacredness of motherhood. On this Mother’s Day, let us pay tribute to that sacred bond by remembering all the women who create, protect and nurture life, even under the most catastrophic circumstances.

The mothers in flooded tents or fleeing bombs. The mothers of hostages still waiting for their families to be made whole. The mothers and newborns fighting for their lives in overcrowded hospital wards without adequate medicines or supplies.

They need life-saving health services and support. They need dignity. Above all, they need peace. This war must end now.

Dr. Natalia Kanem is UNFPA Executive Director

IPS UN Bureau

 


  
 
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