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Senior UN official reports sharp deterioration in Palestinians health conditions

The Director-General of the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) today reported a sharp deterioration of medical conditions among the Palestinian people, blaming the trend on the escalating conflict in the Middle East and Israeli restrictions. Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland’s statement in Geneva on the health situation of people living in the occupied Palestinian territory painted a grim picture of nutritional status, mortality and available medical facilities. Closures and curfews are hindering the delivery of health care services, while water supply and sanitation conditions are in decline. “This is further exacerbated by the ongoing conflict with casualties on both sides, which has resulted in continuous physical and mental suffering,” she said. The WHO chief voiced concern that the communities in the occupied Palestinian territory, already in “considerable distress,” will continue to suffer ill health as long as hostilities continue, and stressed that she must be able to visit the region in order to supplement the agency’s findings – all based on data from the field – and craft a response. Citing various sources, she said that because of closures and curfews, Palestinian health facilities operate at about 30 per cent of capacity. “Restrictions of access continue to prevent Palestinians requiring medical treatment from accessing health care services,” she noted. “The Ministry of Health reported that the percentage of home deliveries has increased from 5 per cent to 50 per cent, again as a result of closures limiting access to services.” According to two different surveys, almost half of young children and women of child-bearing age are anaemic. Those studies “also reveal the existence of childhood malnutrition” and show “an overall deterioration in the nutritional status of the entire child population when compared with the results of surveys undertaken… before the current crisis.” A market survey revealed shortages of high-protein foods, such as fish, chicken and dairy products, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In addition to the conflict’s death toll – reportedly over 2,500 Palestinians and over 620 Israelis have died over the past year – Dr. Brundtland noted that the excessive number of injured and disabled is placing an additional burden on the health system. “The long-term impact of the lack of access to health care, exacerbated by poverty and economic and social insecurity, on the health of the Palestinians must be studied, monitored and addressed in order to alleviate the negative effects on health,” she said. “Long-term care for those who have been disabled, as a result of this conflict alone, will require extensive financial and structural commitment.” read more