UNRWA and the SDGs: Good Health and Wellbeing Protecting lives in Gaza by providing maternal and child healthcare

08 May 2019
25 year-old Lamess Lolowith her 10 day-old baby Riyad visit with their doctor at an UNRWA health centre in Gaza. © 2019 UNRWA Photo by Khalil Adwan

Health is fundamental to human development. It is also a sector where change and challenges are constant. Every year brings new technological and scientific advances, new risks and threats to public health, and ever greater societal expectations for higher standards of health. As their main comprehensive primary health care provider, UNRWA has played a key role in promoting the health and well-being of millions of Palestine refugees over the past 70 years. 

Maternal and child health is a priority for UNRWA, and the Agency provides antenatal care, including comprehensive initial physical examinations and regular follow-up consultations. In addition to this, the screening for pregnancy-related hypertension, diabetes mellitus, anemia and oral health issues are also provided in all 22 UNRWA health centres across the Gaza Strip.

Lamess Lolo, a young Palestine refugee, is one of the many women who regularly attend UNRWA health services during their pregnancy. During one of these regular check-ups, medical staff discovered that she was suffering from pre-eclampsia, a hypertensive disorder and a leading cause of natal mortality. 

"I visited the health centre for my regular antenatal check-up impatient to see my a glimpse of my baby from the ultrasound. Instead, I learned from the UNRWA medical staff that my life could be in danger due to my medical condition!” Lamess recalls. “I was diagnosed with an at-risk pregnancy and was immediately referred to a specialist. My family and I had many sleepless nights over the risks to both me and my unborn child in case any eclampsia or related complications occured.”

Lamess recalls the day when she finally held her newly born son in her arms as the “most beautiful moment in my life”. Since little Riyad was born with a low birth weight, the young mother and her baby continued to receive specialist care from the UNRWA medical staff. “UNRWA doctors provided my baby with periodic physical examinations, immunizations, growth monitoring and nutritional surveillance, as well as micronutrient supplementation,” Lamess notes. 

In line with the lifecycle approach, UNRWA provides special interventions to meet the health needs of newborns, infants under-one year of age, children one to five years of age and school-aged children. Both preventive and curative care is provided, with a special emphasis on prevention.

“My pregnancy and the first days after Riyad was born have not been easy. But I trust the doctors at the UNRWA health centre, and we continue to manage this journey together,” she says during one of her follow-up visits. 

UNRWA health centres have made great strides in decreasing the rate of maternal deaths. While the maternal mortality ratio in 2016 was 19.9 female deaths per 100,000 live births, this ratio has decreased in 2018 to 4.9 deaths per 100,000 live births. Efforts by UNRWA and other healthcare providers in Gaza continue to further decrease maternal mortality by raising awareness about, and providing of, antenatal, delivery and postnatal as well as child health services.