Newborns, women and children are “disproportionately bearing the burden” of the war in Gaza, several United Nations aid agencies said in a joint statement Friday.
“The bombardments, damaged or non-functioning health facilities, massive levels of displacement, collapsing water and electricity supplies as well as restricted access to food and medicines, are severely disrupting maternal, newborn, and child health services,” they said.
The statement was released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency (UNFPA), and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Many pregnant women aren’t able to access the medical care they need, and maternal deaths are expected to increase.
“The psychological toll of the hostilities also has direct – and sometimes deadly – consequences on reproductive health, including a rise in stress-induced miscarriages, stillbirths and premature births,” the statement added.
Malnutrition, already an issue before the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, is now even more dire and can have effects on childhood survival and development, the statement warned.
The lives of newborns “hang by a thread” because “an estimated 130 premature babies who rely on neonatal and intensive care services will be threatened,” if hospitals run out of fuel. Incubators and other medical equipment will no longer function, it warned.
The statement calls for “an immediate humanitarian pause” in order to “alleviate the suffering and prevent a desperate situation from becoming catastrophic.”
Some 9,155 people have been killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza since October 7, according to figures released Friday by the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah drawn from sources in the Hamas-controlled enclave. More than 23,000 others have been injured.
The ministry’s report states that close to 73% of the fatalities belong to vulnerable groups, including children, women, and elderly individuals.
Some context: The myriad challenges of managing medical care in Gaza was further underscored Friday when an airstrike on an ambulance outside Gaza City’s largest medical facility killed at least 15 people and injured 50 others, according to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health.
The Al-Shifa Hospital has increasingly found itself part of the frontline as Israel claimed the facility is the site of a significant Hamas command and control center.
Palestinians have rejected the Israeli claim, with its Director General of the Gaza Health Ministry, Dr. Medhat Abbas, telling CNN last week that Gaza’s hospitals “are used to treat patients only” and are not being used “to hide anyone.”
Israel claimed responsibility for an attack on the ambulance, saying the vehicle was used by Hamas.