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WHO Concerned About Health of Palestinians - 2002-05-15

The World Health Organization's General Assembly has approved a resolution expressing concern about what it calls the deteriorating health situation in the Palestinian territories. The resolution calls on the Israeli government to release money due to the Palestinian authority, including health insurance funds. WHO says curfews and damage to the Palestinian Authority's health sector during recent Israeli incursions make it difficult to provide adequate medical treatment to Palestinians.

It says blood, essential drugs, and vaccines are in short supply at hospitals, and clean water and safe sanitation are lacking. The WHO says that immunization coverage is down to 65 from 95 percent.

The Palestinian representative, Munzer Al-Sharif, told the assembly that the health situation in the West Bank and Gaza is "very bleak."

"The expectations with regards to the health situation are indeed ominous," he said. "There are certain areas which are vulnerable to measles and this epidemic could spread. And we have managed to report a number of cases of neonatal tetanus because much of the delivery takes place within the homes. The mothers cannot reach hospitals. Furthermore, there is an outbreak of the West Nile virus."

Israel's ambassador, Yaa'cov Levy, told the assembly that Israelis are also suffering, particularly from emotional damage. He also responded to charges by international humanitarian organizations that Israeli troops destroyed more than 160 of their ambulances and attacked more than 100 Palestinian health facilities.

"But the Israeli medical teams have been hampered," he said. "Seventy-one Israeli ambulances have either been destroyed, shot at, or burned by Palestinians when they were on their way to treat the wounded."

WHO head Gro Harlem Bruntland says intentional attacks against civilians can never be justified, wherever they occur. She says that the neutrality of medical staff needs to be upheld by all sides at all times, and restrictions should never be imposed on medical staff, patients, medicines, or ambulances.