Pregnant Women in Labor in Gaza Are ‘Unable’ to Get Care, Says Palestinian NGO Head

The Palestinian Family Planning & Protection Association's only family planning center was recently destroyed, its executive director told Jezebel.

Pregnant Women in Labor in Gaza Are ‘Unable’ to Get Care, Says Palestinian NGO Head
A woman walks around tents at a camp set up by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) for Palestinians who fled to the southern Gaza Strip on October 19. Photo:Getty Images

Ammal Awadallah hasn’t heard much from Wafa Abu Hasheish, a healthcare worker in Gaza, lately. The executive director of the Palestinian Family Planning and Protection Association (PFPPA), who’s currently based in Jerusalem, told Jezebel the increasingly concerning silence from Hasheish could stem from any number of things—not the least of which includes that PFPPA’s only service delivery point was destroyed on October 8 when an Israeli airstrike hit the building next to it. The facility is the organization’s only center in Gaza and its destruction has cut off access to life-saving family planning resources for thousands of pregnant people in Gaza.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen to these women and their newborn babies. Our center is unusable and our options to provide referrals to hospitals are decreasing by the hour,” Awadallah said in a press release on October 12. “I can’t stress enough how dire the situation is and how desperately we need humanitarian aid to be allowed into Gaza.”

Through her limited contact with Hasheish, Awadallah has learned pregnant women across Gaza are “unable to reach health centers when going into labor or in need of any kind of medical assistance,” and there are almost no safe places to shelter from bombs, let alone “safe places to give birth.” (It’s estimated that anywhere from 50,000 to 84,000 women in Gaza are currently pregnant.) PFPPA’s service center—which is overseen by the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF)—offered family planning services, counseling, lab tests, infertility services, and maternal, antenatal, and postnatal care.

One health organization in Gaza, as well as the Gazan Health Ministry, previously claimed Israel is deliberately targeting the areas around hospitals and health facilities. ABC reported on Wednesday that 22 hospitals, treating more than 2,000 patients in northern Gaza, were a part of Isreal’s recent evacuation orders.

“Even if the women are able to reach the hospitals, and they aren’t struck—it’s not always that the pregnant women, women giving birth, would be necessarily the priority there when there are so many people,” Awadallah said. She’s heard from Hasheish of numerous miscarriages and “premature labor” induced by “tension and anxiety that is affecting the pregnancies of all the women in the area.” Per reporting from IPPF, pregnant women in northern Gaza “are miscarrying pregnancies due to stress and shock.”

A Palestinian Family Planning and Protection Association worker helps a woman and her child in 2021. Photo:Courtesy of IPPF/Samar Abu Elouf

But miscarriages, Awadallah says, are just one concern: “There’s also maternal mortality, where we can only imagine that with a lack of resources, the lack of ability to access services and lack of available safe places for delivery—these are all factors that impact the maternal mortality,” she explained. “And we don’t know exactly what has happened in the past 10 days especially as communication is difficult.” One pregnant woman told the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) this week her “baby was feeling every explosion.” Another woman recounted to UNPF that she went into labor as her family fled their home from Israeli bombardment; upon giving birth in Al Shifa Hospital, she was discharged just three hours later to make room for a steady flow of additional arrivals.

As of Oct. 11, Gaza’s only power plant ran out of fuel and Gaza has few remaining functional water plants; the Associated Press reports that this places thousands in hospitals at risk of imminent death, and the Palestinian Ministry of Health stated on Tuesday that its hospital system has entered a stage of “actual collapse” due to electricity cuts and fuel shortages. “Without clean water, food, basic medicines and vaccines, innocent women and newborn babies will continue to die,” according to IPPF.

After Hamas-led attacks on Israel on Oct. 7, which resulted in 1,300 dead and almost 200 taken hostage, Israeli airstrikes have since killed over 4,000 Palestinians, including over a thousand children. On Thursday, Reuters reported that Israel will allow 20 trucks of aid to enter through the Rafah crossing at Gaza’s southern border, which is the only passage that connects Gaza to Egypt; per Israel’s terms for this deal, the U.N. flag will wave above the trucks and international observers will inspect to ensure the aid isn’t given to Hamas. Still, the World Health Organization called this “a drop in the ocean of need.” As of Friday afternoon, the trucks have not crossed into Gaza yet, per the Washington Post.

PFPPA cares for a mother and two babies at their Gaza service center in 2021. Photo:Courtesy of IPPF/Samar Abu Elouf

And it’s still not clear how the aid distribution will be facilitated given the near-total destruction of roads and mass displacement across Gaza—and seemingly no plans for a temporary ceasefire. Further, to Awadallah’s earlier point, the tens of thousands of pregnant women may not necessarily be first in line to receive the aid.

What we’re seeing now, according to Awadallah, is a cumulation of years of neglect and a lack of resources in Palestine’s health system—particularly where reproductive care like contraception and other services is concerned. Awadallah emphasized that “15 years of occupation” created these conditions by preventing Gaza from accumulating a supply of basic medicine. “Even before the latest escalation of attacks on the Gaza Strip, everything we had was so limited—and of course, this is not the first time the Gaza Strip has been attacked by Israel.”

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