Belal Khaled / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Gaza infant mortality rate rises for first time in 53 years

Akihiro Seita, director of UNRWA’s health programs, suggests Israel’s blockade of Gaza could be a contributing factor

The infant mortality rate in Gaza has risen for the first time in more than half a century, a new study by the U.N. aid agency for Palestinian refugees says.

"The number of babies dying before the age of 1 has consistently gone down over the last decades in Gaza, from 127 per 1,000 live births in 1960 to 20.2 in 2008. At the last count, in 2013, it had risen to 22.4 per 1,000 live births," a statement from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) released Saturday said.

"Every five years UNRWA conducts a survey of infant mortality across the region, and the 2013 results were released this week," it said, adding that it would conduct a new Gaza-specific survey this year.

It said that the neonatal mortality rate — for babies who die before 4 weeks old — in Gaza rose from 12 per 1,000 live births in 2008 to 20.3 in 2013.

The statement quoted Akihiro Seita, the director of the agency's health program, as saying that the sudden upswing was unprecedented in the Middle East.

"When the 2013 results from Gaza were first uncovered, UNRWA was alarmed by the apparent increase. So we worked with external independent research groups to examine the data to ensure the increase could be confirmed," he said. "That is why it took us so long to release these latest figures."

He suggested that Israel's blockade of the coastal strip, where close to 45 percent of the population is under 14 years old, could be a contributing factor.

"It is hard to know the exact causes behind the increase in both neonatal and infant mortality rates, but I fear it is part of a wider trend," he said. "We are very concerned about the impact of the long-term blockade — on health facilities, supplies of medicines and bringing equipment in to Gaza."

Israel imposed its blockade on the Gaza Strip in 2006 after Hamas captured an Israeli soldier. Israel tightened controls a year later after Hamas consolidated its rule in the strip.

A 50-day war between Israel and Palestinian armed groups in July and August of 2014 killed about 2,200 Palestinians (mostly civilians) and 73 on the Israeli side (66 soldiers, six Israeli civilians and one Thai national) and destroyed or damaged tens of thousands of homes in the impoverished coastal territory.

Among the Gaza dead were more than 500 children.


Related News

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter


Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter