Palestine Refugees face unprecedented health challenges to amid Gaza war: UNRWA Annual Health Report

28 May 2024
UNRWA Director of Health, Akiro Seita, holds up the newly released UNRWA Annual Health Report 2023 in Geneva, Switzerland. © 2024 United Nations


Palestine Refugees in the Gaza Strip are facing an unprecedented health emergency caused by the most devastating war in their history, according to UNRWA’s 2023 Annual Health Report, released today. 

Across UNRWA’s five fields of operation - Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza, and Syria - over two million patients depend on the Agency’s health services. Despite challenges to it operations, including defunding, UNRWA managed to deliver nearly seven million primary healthcare consultations in 2023, maintaining high levels of immunization, including in Gaza, which has played a crucial role in preventing outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.

“The health crisis among Palestine refugees can only be mitigated with immediate and sustained healthcare interventions and support. UNRWA remains committed to addressing these urgent needs and improving the health and wellbeing of Palestine Refugees,” said Dr. Akihiro Seita, UNRWA Director of Health.

The war in Gaza has severely impacted the health and well-being of Palestine Refugees, with increased levels of injury, trauma, and mental health disorders. Destruction of infrastructure and transportation has further complicated healthcare delivery, while overcrowded living conditions and limited access to clean water have heightened the risk of infectious diseases. Rising cases of acute hepatitis and various forms of diarrhea have been reported. Additionally, malnutrition has worsened, with one in three children under the age of two in northern Gaza suffering from acute malnutrition.

In the last quarter of 2023, healthcare access declined as 14 of 22 health centres had to cease operating and power outages crippled telehealth systems. In response, UNRWA opened 155 emergency shelters and deployed 108 mobile medical units, coordinated the shipment of essential medicines, and implemented disease outbreak surveillance.

“Our staff remained at the frontline in Gaza, as of May 2024, UNRWA has lost over 191 staff members, including 11 healthcare professionals. Our hearts go out to the affected families. This report underscores our gratitude for the dedication of our healthcare staff, who continue to deliver quality services despite their loss and being displaced several times,” noted Dr. Seita.

In the West Bank, meanwhile increased movement restrictions and rising violence have posed additional challenges. UNRWA adapted by finding temporary solutions to ensure access for patients and that medical supplies were delivered without interruption.

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Notes to Editors

  • Maternal and child healthcare remained a priority, with extensive services provided. Meanwhile, non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and hypertension continued to rise due to lifestyle factors. Communicable diseases were largely controlled through vaccination and outbreak management, but hygiene-related diseases reemerged in Gaza towards the end of 2023, after the war broke out in October. Mental health issues also increased due to ongoing conflict and economic instability, despite mental health and psychosocial support services being integrated in all health centres.
  • UNRWA’s focus on technology was demonstrated by a significant increase in the utilization rate of the Non-Communicable Diseases Mobile Application (e-NCD) and the Maternal and Child Health Mobile Application (e-MCH).
Background Information: 

UNRWA is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. The United Nations General Assembly established UNRWA in 1949 with a mandate to provide humanitarian assistance and protection to registered Palestine refugees in the Agency’s area of operations pending a just and lasting solution to their plight.

UNRWA operates in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, The Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. 

Tens of thousands of Palestine refugees who lost their homes and livelihoods due to the 1948 conflict continue to be displaced and in need of support, nearly 75 years on.

UNRWA helps Palestine Refugees achieve their full potential in human development through quality services it provides in education, health care, relief and social services, protection, camp infrastructure and improvement, microfinance, and emergency assistance. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions.

Your support is crucial to help us provide emergency aid 
to displaced families in Gaza

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