Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Hari observes that the Independent Christmas Appeal is contributing some of its funds for medical care in the West Bank. If you are inclined to contribute, go here. As I noted recently, you can also contribute to the medical assistance programs of the Middle East Children's Alliance in the West Bank, Gaza and Lebanon.
In Salfit, on the other side of the West Bank, Jamilla Alahad Naim, 29, is waiting for the first medical check-up of her five-month pregnancy. "I am frightened all the time," she says. "I am frightened for my baby because I have had very little medical treatment and I cannot afford good food ... I know I will give birth at home with no help, like I did with Mohammed [her last child]. I am too frightened to go to hospital because there are two checkpoints between our home [and there] and I know if you are detained by the soldiers, the mother or the baby can die out there in the cold. But giving birth at home is very dangerous too."
Hindia Abu Nabah - a steely 31-year-old staff nurse at Al Zawya Clinic, in Salfit district - says it is "a nightmare" to be pregnant in the West Bank today. "Recently, two of our pregnant patients here were tear-gassed in their homes ... The women couldn't breathe and went into premature labour. By the time we got there, the babies had been delivered stillborn."
Many of the medical problems afflicting pregnant women here are more mundane than Jamilla's darkest fears: 30 per cent of pregnant Palestinians suffer from anaemia, a lack of red blood cells. The extreme poverty caused by the siege and now the international boycott seems to be a key factor. The doctors here warn grimly that as ordinary Palestinians' income evaporates, they eat more staples and fewer proteins - a recipe for anaemia. There is some evidence, they add, that women are giving the best food to their husbands and children, and subsisting on gristle and scraps. The anaemia leaves women at increased risk of bleeding heavily and contracting an infection during childbirth.
Earlier this year, conditions for pregnant women on the West Bank - already poor - fell off a cliff. Following the election of Hamas, the world choked off funding for the Palestinian Authority, which suddenly found itself unable to pay its doctors and nurses. After several months medical staff went on strike, refusing to take anything but emergency cases. For more than three months, the maternity wards of the West Bank were empty and echoing. Beds lay, perfectly made, waiting for patients who could not come.
In all this time, there were no vitamins handed out, no ultrasound scans, no detection of congenital abnormalities. Imagine that the NHS had simply packed up and stopped one day and did not reopen for 12 weeks, and you get a sense of the scale of the medical disaster.
Some women were wealthy enough to go to the few private hospitals scattered across the West Bank. Most were not. So because of the international boycott of the Palestinians, every hospital warns there has been an unseen, unreported increase in home births on the West Bank.