Infant mortality refers to the number of babies who die before one year of age, while neonatal mortality is the number of babies who die before they are four weeks old. A new study by the UN aid agency for Palestinian refugees suggested that the infant mortality rate and neonatal mortality rate in Gaza has risen for the first time in more than half a century.
A statement from the UNRWA relief agency said, "The number of babies dying before the age of one 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. Every five years UNRWA conducts a survey of infant mortality across the region, and the 2013 results were released this week. Neonatal mortality in Gaza rose from 12 per 1,000 live births in 2008 to 20.3 in 2013."
Akihiro Seita, director of the agency's health program, said, "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. That is why it took us so long to release these latest figures."
Seita suggested that Israel's blockade of the Gaza coastal strip, where close to 45% of the population is under 14 years old, could be a contributing factor. He said, "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. We are very concerned about the impact of the long-term blockade; on health facilities, supplies of medicines and bringing equipment in to Gaza."