The United Nations says non-communicable diseases are on the rise among Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva that the U.N. Relief and Works Agency annual report provides data on the health of 4 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza.
UNRWA Director of Health Guido Sabatinelli tells VOA non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, hypertension and post-traumatic disorders are on the increase.
He says higher food prices and growing poverty in the Palestinian Territories are making it difficult for people to buy quality food and this is having an impact on health.
"They are using more and more carbohydrates and that increases the possibility and the risk for diabetes," he said. "Hypertension is the direct consequence of distress and we are also observing an increase of post-traumatic stress that is in direct relation with widespread violence in the [Occupied Palestinian Territories]."
The United Nations reports 80 percent of the population in Gaza live on less than $2.50 a day. It says 60 percent of all household revenue is used for food.
The annual UNRWA report says post-traumatic stress and other behavioral disorders appear to be on the increase. It says the chronically harsh living conditions coupled with long-term political instability, violence and uncertainty have taken a toll, particularly on children and adolescents in the occupied Palestinian territory and Lebanon.
Dr. Sabatinelli says another worrying factor is the steady increase in micro-nutrient deficiencies, especially iron deficiency anemia and vitamin-A deficiency.
"The last survey that has been conducted in 2007, we conduct this survey every five years - and it is showing an increase of anemia reaching 57 percent in Gaza and 37 percent in West Bank among the children," he added.
On the positive side, the UNRWA report shows a notable reduction in communicable diseases. It says few children are dying from measles and other killer diseases. It says vaccine-preventable diseases such as tuberculosis are under control, and this has boosted the life expectancy of Palestinian refugees.
Despite the increasingly unstable environment in which it works, Dr. Sabatinelli says the U.N. Relief and Works Agency continues to provide one of the most cost-effective and efficient health delivery systems in the region.
He says the number of Palestinian refugees the health program serves has increased dramatically during the past decade and this has resulted in many improvements.
For instance, he notes fertility rates among the refugee population have declined significantly during the past two decades. He says infant mortality is relatively low with 22 deaths per 1,000 live births.