July 6, 2011
LONDON, 5 July 2011 (IRIN) - For three years now a UK medical journal, the Lancet, has been working with Palestinian health professionals and researchers to document the effects of stressful living - coping with economic difficulties and shortages, restrictions on movement, political tensions and fear of outside attack - and has just published its latest findings.
Restrictions on movement are an everyday irritant in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt): Apart from tedious and humiliating searches at checkpoints, residents never know for sure how long their journeys will take, or whether, indeed, they can be made at all. But in a medical emergency these restrictions can be a matter of life or death.
Last year the Lancet's collaborators described vividly the terror of women waiting to give birth during Israeli bombing raids on Gaza in early 2009: They knew they might need urgent medical care at a time when they were trapped in their homes during the attacks. This year another of their researchers has looked at what happens to women already in labour who are caught at oPt checkpoints.
Halla Shoaibi of Ann Arbor University in the USA estimates that in the period she studied (2000-2007) 10 percent of pregnant Palestinian women were delayed at checkpoints while travelling to hospital to give birth. One result has been a dramatic increase in the number of home births, with women preferring to avoid road trips while in labour for fear of not being able to reach the hospital in time.
Their fears are well founded. Ms Shoaibi says 69 babies were born at checkpoints during those seven years. Thirty five babies and five of the mothers died, an outcome which she considers to amount to a crime against humanity.
When the Lancet group held their first meeting in March 2009, Gaza was still reeling from the Israeli attacks known as Operation Cast Lead, which led to the deaths of well over a 1,000 people. In the latest publication, researchers return to that period, with further analysis of survey material about the effects of the attack on the civilian population.