Pregnant women must get urgent access to health care in Occupied Palestinian Territory

Conflict has put undue pressure on Palestinian women and impacted their right to health care and other rights: Palestinian refugees from Al-Shoka village living at a temporary refugee camp in a United Nations school near Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, 10 July 2006. Villagers of Al-Shoka fled their houses after the Israeli army began their incursion to the Gaza Strip nearly one week ago. (MaanImages/Hatem Omar)

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, expresses its deep concern about recent reports of delays at Israeli checkpoints of women in labour, which have resulted in forced roadside births, and even death of some women and infants. It urges that civilians with urgent needs should have access to health facilities and that humanitarian organizations be allowed to work freely to alleviate the suffering of the people, especially women and children.

More than 68 pregnant Palestinian women had to give birth at Israeli checkpoints during the last six years, leading to 34 miscarriages and the death of four women, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

A recent report by the Ministry shows that since the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, pregnant Palestinian women in labour are often prevented by Israeli forces from reaching hospitals to receive appropriate medical attention. As a result, 10 per cent of women who wished to give birth at medical centres have had to spend two to four hours on the road before reaching a hospital, while 6 per cent spent more than four hours. The normal time, before the Intifada, was 15-30 minutes.

“These figures underline the need to put an end, once and for all, to the agony of pregnant Palestinian women held at Israeli checkpoints.” said Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA. “It is urgent to facilitate access by pregnant women to life-saving services, as stipulated by international humanitarian law.”

According to the Ministry’s report, there are currently 117,600 pregnant women in the Palestinian territory, including 17,640 who suffer from difficult pregnancies due to the lack of prenatal and postnatal care. Inadequate medical care during pregnancy, says the report, is the third leading cause of death among Palestinian women of childbearing age.

UNFPA has been helping pregnant women avoid suffering at the checkpoints by training health personnel and equipping them with delivery kits to provide services within their communities. It has also formed local community support teams to assist health providers and raise awareness of the availability of delivery services.

The latest Israeli military incursions into the Gaza Strip, which started on 28 June, have compounded the suffering of the Palestinian population in general, and women and young people in particular. Damage to the Gaza infrastructure, including health, communication and transport facilities, and power sources, has been extensive. Facilities and services, including those of health, have not been able to function properly, and the Strip’s 1.4 million inhabitants have been left without electricity.

UNFPA continues to work with its partners on providing the Gaza population with essential emergency services and supplies. That includes restoring health facilities, purchasing reproductive health supplies and other essential drugs to support the Ministry of Health, and providing psychological and clinical services to women and their families.

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  • BY TOPIC: Women