Gaza doctors measure children for malnutrition

By Thomson Reuters Feb 15, 2024 | 11:18 AM

By Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (Reuters) – Medical workers held strips of plastic around the upper arms of small children in a Rafah tent, measuring the circumferences of their arms for signs of wasting flesh as a hunger crisis hits Gaza after months of Israel’s military campaign there.

One small girl of two and a half years had tiny arms, the skin already starting to hang loose after her weight plummeted from 11kg before the conflict to just 7kg now, said her mother Hana Tabash.

Initial data from measurements taken around Gaza shows 5% of under fives in the tiny, crowded Palestinian enclave are now acutely malnourished, the U.N. humanitarian office OCHA said last week.

Doctor Muhammed Abu Sultan, one of the doctors from the Medglobal Team working with the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, said the poor health conditions in Gaza and lack of adequate food were causing the widespread malnutrition.

Aid agencies have accused Israel of hampering aid deliveries into Gaza and say the military has prevented distribution outside southern areas around Rafah. The hunger crisis is believed to be far worse in northern areas that are harder to reach.

Israel has denied there are any limitations on humanitarian aid entering Gaza and has ascribed any problems to U.N. distribution capacity.

Tabash said her daughter had been underweight even before the war began but as the family had fled their home in Khan Younis, ending up displaced in Rafah where a million people are sleeping in rough shelters, she grew thinner still.

“I used to give her medical treatments and supplements but with the current situation I can’t find a solution for her,” Tabash said, adding that her daughter had developmental delays.

The conflict began on Oct. 7 when Hamas fighters stormed border defences into southern Israel, killing around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and seizing 253 hostages according to Israeli tallies.

Israel’s air and ground offensive since then has killed more than 28,500 people, also mostly civilians, say health authorities in Hamas-run Gaza.

UNICEF’s regional communications head Ammar Ammar, based in Jordan, said that over the coming weeks there would be at least 10,000 children in Gaza whose lives are at risk from malnutrition exacerbated by a lack of clean drinking water.

“There is also a direct impact in terms of physical development, cognitive ability, school performance and productivity later in life,” from the malnutrition they are suffering now, Ammar added.

(Reporting by Ibraheem Abu Mustafa in Rafah and Jehad Shalbak in Amman, writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Toby Chopra)