Forced out of hospitals, pregnant women in Gaza risk their lives to give birth

Babies are being delivered in tents and without medical assistance in cold weather

Rana Hamadona with her baby girl in a tent in the Gaza Strip. Screenshot taken from a video by Osama Al Kahlout
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It was past midnight when Ibtisam Al Kafarna's labour pains began and she was rushed to the hospital in Gaza's Deir Al Balah area on a donkey cart.

There were no beds available at Shohadaa Al Aqsaa so she sat for 30 minutes on a chair after she delivered her baby boy by cesarean section.

Because the hospital was full, she was asked to leave shortly after.

"There were two women to a bed," she told The National. "Women after delivery need to rest and eat well, but those are now considered luxuries."

Ms Al Kafarna had fled to Deir Al Balah from Beit Hanoun in the north of the Gaza and wasn't expecting to deliver her baby soon.

The doctors didn't examine her baby or provide any pain relief medication for her surgery.

She is now struggling to provide formula milk and diapers for her baby, and her mother-in-law is asking around to borrow clothes for the baby and mother.

A similar fate had befallen Rana Hamadona.

She was forced by Israel's army to flee from the Al Sinna area in Khan Younis to Deir Al Balah, holding her week-old baby.

Ms Hamadona had delivered her baby girl in Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, but was asked to leave immediately afterwards.

She asked the hospital for "anti-D" medicine, which she needs because her blood type is different to her husband's, but it wasn't available.

"My baby girl wasn't examined by the doctors, and now she is suffering from a cough," she told The National from her tent in Deir Al Balah camp in central Gaza.

She tries to escape by sleeping, hoping it will distance her from thinking about the fate of her sick daughter.

"Our situation has become worse," she says.

Wissam Zaqout, the head of the Neonatal Department at Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, said that after a large number of citizens fled from the north to the central region, the number of patients coming to the hospital had multiplied.

This has resulted in a shortage of equipment for newborn care, essential medical supplies for supporting respiratory issues in premature infants, as well as medications for congenital heart diseases in children, Mr Zaqout told The National.

Mr Zaqout highlighted a new problem – the birth of babies in displacement tents in harsh, cold weather, along with extremely poor living conditions.

He mentioned a lack of milk and diapers for newborns in the nursery section and markets, with any available item now being sold at extremely high prices.

A packet of diapers that used to cost about 25 Israeli shekels in the Gaza Strip is now as much as 200 shekels.

"The use of alternatives to diapers leads to skin problems for premature babies," he added. "A baby should be born in suitable conditions, but unfortunately, in the tents, no suitable conditions are available."

A newborn loses heat quickly in such conditions, leading to various problems including sugar burns, and eventually hypothermia.

"Sadly, we have received many cases like these, and unfortunately, half of them lose their lives," he continued.

Fedaa Al Nahal fled from the north to Deir Al Balah and is now staying in a UN-run school there.

She is nine months pregnant and worries about delivering her baby in such adverse conditions.

"I heard about the difficulties that women face while delivering their baby, and I really don't want to go through this experience in this way," Ms Al Nahal told The National.

She is also suffering from malnutrition, which could affect her and her baby.

"I hope the war ends soon and I can deliver the baby in a better world," she said.

Updated: February 08, 2024, 11:42 AM