The health and lives of women and young children in Gaza and the surrounding areas are in crisis. According to data from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), there are more than 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza currently, 5,500 of whom are expected to give birth in the next month.
Health workers, including midwives, have been killed or injured during the violence. Those who remain in Gaza face an agonising choice – either to abandon their patients or risk their own lives by staying. Overwhelmingly, health staff, including midwives, have chosen to stay and continue to provide lifesaving care.
ICM reiterates the UNFPA’s call that all parties abide by international humanitarian law and for the immediate release of all hostages. Attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure must cease, and healthcare facilities must never be a target.
According to the United Nations (UN), over 1 million people (representing half the population of Gaza) have been displaced. Last Friday, 13 October, Israel ordered the entire population of northern Gaza, just over 1 million people, to move south within 24 hours, an order that has caused a humanitarian catastrophe. In addition to the evacuation order, Israel has also cut off water and electricity to Gaza, including to many hospitals in the area.
Many pregnant women, young children, the elderly, and disabled persons are unable to flee south and must be protected. Displaced women are at an increased risk of sexual violence, unwanted pregnancies, and exposure to sexually transmitted diseases. Additional risks include malnutrition, poor sanitation, and lack of maternity care, including psychological support before, during, and after childbirth. Many midwives have not been able to reach maternity wards to provide care because of the dangers facing them on the way to work. They are also unable to do their jobs because of an overall danger to their lives, including at facilities and a lack of resources including water and basic essentials for childbirth.
This past week has shown us that we must come together to demand peace through diplomacy. We must also demand the protection of the lives of vulnerable pregnant women, children, and health workers, including midwives. ICM calls for humanitarian corridors to be opened in Gaza to deliver the critical medications and supplies that pregnant women and young children need, for the protection of civilian infrastructure, and above all, the protection of the lives and well-being of health workers, including midwives, who are providing life-saving services.
ICM is in contact with our member associations on the ground and encourages all member associations, especially those in neighhbouring countries, and individuals working to provide and uphold care for women and families to:
- ask their governments to support peace initiatives and to provide financial support to verified agencies offering humanitarian assistance to civilians on the ground
- liaise with local governments to ensure displaced women have access to midwifery services.
- liaise with neighbouring midwives’ associations to support one another and collaborate in advocacy and provision of care
- encourage their members to provide midwifery care to all
- adopt this statement and attached resources within their organisations and disseminate it to all relevant institutions and individuals
ICM stands with all midwives in the region and calls for an immediate ceasefire. The rights and well-being of women, newborns, and children must be upheld under all circumstances. Families can only thrive during peace – may it prevail!