Perils of Pregnancy in Gaza: Healthcare Struggles Amidst Israeli Bombing

Gaza has 50,000 pregnant women who lack treatment, access to doctors and adequate healthcare centres.

In the heart of the conflict-ridden Gaza Strip, the plight of pregnant women has taken a harrowing turn. With every reverberation of Israeli air raids, expectant mothers like Niveen al-Barbari grapple with fear and pain, their access to critical healthcare disrupted. The United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) reveals a staggering 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza facing a dearth of essential check-ups and treatment. This crisis is exacerbated by the crumbling healthcare system, a direct consequence of the enduring Israeli blockade.

A displaced woman sits with children in a tent camp at a UN-run centre in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 23, 2023 [Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters]

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF), there are 50,000 pregnant women in the besieged territory, many suffering from a lack of regular check-ups and treatment because Gaza’s healthcare system is on the brink of collapse due to the siege imposed by Israel on the territory. Last week, the UNPF called for “urgent health care and protection” of the pregnant women.

“All these images of babies and children under the rubble of their homes or lying in hospital with injuries makes me very scared for my baby,” al-Barbari said. “Every day I pray for the war to end in order to save my child from these missiles that have no mercy on anyone.”

According to Walid Abu Hatab, a medical consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology at the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis, access to health centres has become very difficult, especially in light of the mass internal displacement of half the Gaza Strip’s 2.3 million people over the past two weeks.

“There are women who have been displaced from their places of residence to other areas, which means changing the health centres which had previously monitored their condition,” he told Al Jazeera. “This makes access to them very difficult for them as they need primary care and follow-up sessions during the various periods of pregnancy.”

The displaced people, most of whom left northern Gaza and Gaza City for the south due to Israeli bombardment of residential areas, are staying with relatives, friends or at overcrowded UN-run schools, which Abu Hatab described as being mired in a “health and environment disaster”.

“This may lead to cases of poisoning due to the unclean environment in the shelter centres,” he said

As mass internal displacement sweeps through Gaza, healthcare access becomes an arduous challenge for these mothers-to-be. Displaced from their homes, women find themselves in unfamiliar territories, struggling to reach the healthcare centers vital for their well-being. The overcrowded UN-run schools, now makeshift shelters, raise serious concerns about health and sanitation.

Perils of Pregnancy in Gaza: Healthcare Struggles Amidst Israeli Bombing

A Palestinian woman holds her children at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on October 23, 2023, after an Israeli air strike wounded the family [Mohammed Al-Masri/Reuters]

Fatigue amid displacement

Suad Asraf, six months pregnant and displaced to a UN school, paints a vivid picture of the challenges faced. Fatigue and anxiety have become her constant companions. The absence of clean water compounds her struggles, impacting both her and her unborn child. Access to medical care has become a game of chance, leaving her desperate for reassurance.

The situation is particularly dire for women who conceived through painstaking IVF treatments. Laila Baraka, three months pregnant after a successful round of IVF, lives in a constant state of terror. Her attempts to find solace in her mother’s presence are overshadowed by the constant fear stemming from the relentless bombings.

Infrastructure damage has extended the journey to functional hospitals, putting mothers at risk. Previously short car rides now stretch into hours, a perilous reality for expectant mothers. The threat to hospitals from Israeli forces adds a layer of complexity, as medical staff grapple with the impossible task of relocating patients.

The Palestinian Family Planning and Protection Association warns of the impending risk for over 37,000 pregnant women who face childbirth without electricity or medical supplies in the coming months. Emergency obstetric services are essential, yet inaccessible for many.

In this tumultuous environment, the lives of both mothers and their unborn children hang in the balance. The scarcity of healthcare and treatment is a dire concern, with potentially fatal consequences. As the conflict rages on, the international community watches with bated breath, hoping for a swift resolution to this humanitarian crisis.

Fear of losing a child

Some women who became pregnant after many painful IVF cycles are worried that they will miscarry.

Laila Baraka, 30, is three months pregnant after a successful round of IVF following years of trying for a second child.

“All day, I’m scared of the sound of bombings, and at night, it is even more intense and terrifying,” she said. “I hug my five-year-old son close as I try to swallow my fear, but I cannot. What we hear terrifies stones, not just humans.”

Baraka, who is from Bani Suhaila, a town east of Khan Younis, moved to the centre of the bigger city thinking it would be safer. But the health centre she had gone to before is not responding to her calls after residents in the eastern area close to Israel’s border fence have all fled.

“Even my doctor has been displaced from his home and communicating with him is very difficult,” she said. “I’m lucky that my mother is constantly by my side and is trying in her own way to make me feel reassured and less stressed.”

But that hardly works for Baraka, who feels exhausted from grieving over the images and footage of dead children on the news.

More than 6,500 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza since October 7, two-thirds of them children and women.

The hardest moment for Baraka was watching a doctor on TV seeing his baby grandchild, who was killed in an Israeli air strike and was born this year after five years of IVF treatments.

“Can you imagine this is the fate of our children?” she said. “What the mothers of Gaza experience can never be described.”

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