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Thousands of Pregnant Women in Gaza Suffer From Malnutrition, Health Authorities Say

WorldMiddle EastThousands of Pregnant Women in Gaza Suffer From Malnutrition, Health Authorities Say


When Wafaa al-Kurd was nearly due to give birth, she said, she weighed less than she did before becoming pregnant and was surviving on rice and artificial juice.

She gave birth to a girl weighing nearly six pounds, named Tayma, just over two weeks ago, she said. Since then, her husband has spent his days scouring markets in northern Gaza, where the family lives, trying to find enough food for his wife to breastfeed and keep Tayma alive.

Nearly 60,000 pregnant women in Gaza are suffering from malnutrition, dehydration and lack of proper health care, according to the Gaza health ministry. In a statement on Friday, the ministry said that about 5,000 women in Gaza were giving birth every month in “harsh, unsafe and unhealthy conditions as a result of bombardment and displacement.”

The ministry added that about 9,000 women, including thousands of mothers and pregnant women, had been killed since Israel’s bombardment and invasion began in early October.

The United Nations and aid agencies have warned that famine is looming in the besieged enclave, where health officials reported that at least 25 people, most of them children, died from malnutrition and dehydration in recent days.

Dr. Deborah Harrington, an obstetrician working at Al Aqsa Hospital in central Gaza, said the expecting and new mothers she treated had not received nearly enough pre- and postnatal care, risking both their lives and their babies’.

Some of the new mothers she spoke to said they were forced to give birth in the street, in their shelters or in their cars because they could not safely reach a hospital in time, Dr. Harrington said.

“Many of them are delivering unsafely, without birth attendants in a hygienic setting, with no lifesaving resources available,” she said.

The Global Nutrition Cluster, a group of aid agencies working in Gaza, found in a report last month that more than 90 percent of children under 2 and pregnant and breastfeeding women, in both northern Gaza and the southern city of Rafah, faced severe food poverty.

Ms. al-Kurd said her biggest pregnancy craving was for tomatoes, which were very scarce in northern Gaza. On her birthday in November, her husband, Saleh, was determined to find her some.

Hours later, when he finally came home — holding a bag of extremely expensive tomatoes that he bought at the only shop that sold them — his wife was “happier than she was when I bought her a gold ring for her birthday last year,” he said in a phone call on Friday.

Like Ms. Al-Kurd, Aya Saada, who is seven months pregnant with her second child, said that she had not been able to find fruits or vegetables to eat in recent months. She added that she did not always have filtered water to drink. “I’m always getting dizzy and nauseous and I’m constantly tired,” said Ms. Saada, 23, who is sheltering at a hospital in northern Gaza.

“You’re supposed to gain weight during your pregnancy,” Ms. Saada said in a voice message on Friday. “But instead, I’m losing weight.” she added.

Vulnerable mothers give birth to vulnerable babies, Dr. Harrington said, and pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers face particularly high risks of malnourishment.

“If you are malnourished, you’re more likely to be anemic,” she said. “You will miss all the kinds of micronutrients that you need to grow a baby safely.”

Pregnant women who have been injured in the bombardment or who have contracted infectious diseases — which are spreading rapidly throughout Gaza — also face much higher risks of miscarriage and stillbirth, Dr. Harrington added.

“When mothers are ill, then their babies can be ill, too, and that increases stillbirth rates,” she said. “Because women are not having prenatal care, you can’t pick up problems.”

Ms. Saada said that her biggest fear — calling it the only thing on her mind — was that her baby would be born with health issues because she lacked nutritious food and clean water during pregnancy. “It’s not possible to prepare for the arrival of my baby,” she said. “We are now just looking for food to eat.”

“The food I’m eating now is not healthy,” said Kholoud Saada, 34, who is nine months pregnant and sheltering, with her four children, in a tent at a school in northern Gaza, and who is not related to Aya Saada. “There is no healthy food in the markets now, no chicken or fish,” she said. “There is no food fit for a pregnant woman,” she added in a voice message on Friday.

Rawan Sheikh Ahmad contributed reporting from Haifa, Israel, and Gaya Gupta from New York.



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