Doctors in Gaza are delivering babies as their mothers die in childbirth and performing complicated surgeries, including caesareans, by torchlight, aid groups, and medics have said.
An estimated 50,000 pregnant women are living in the territory, with an average of 160 births expected to occur every day over the next month, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
But due to a lack of aid arriving in Gaza, and amid intense Israeli airstrikes which have crippled the Strip’s already fragile health infrastructure, humanitarian organisations have warned that the lives of thousands of mothers and newborn babies are now at risk.
“The chaos and horror unleashed in Gaza is affecting women in devastating ways,” said Soraida Hussein-Sabbah, a gender and advocacy specialist at ActionAid UK, based in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
“Conditions in hospitals are dangerous, C-sections and major surgery are being performed with only the torch on a phone providing light as they undertake complex medical procedures as the bombs fall around them.
“Every day we hear of doctors delivering the babies of women who are dying in childbirth. It is catastrophic.”
The World Health Organization has said that nearly two-thirds of health clinics across Gaza are not functioning, meaning the vast majority of pregnant women and mothers will have little or no access to emergency obstetric care.
ActionAid UK has meanwhile warned that, due to a lack of food, pregnant and breastfeeding women are struggling to produce the milk they need to feed their babies and keep them alive. Mothers have also reported being unable to access water.
One pregnant woman in Gaza, called Salma, told the British charity: “There is not enough water for drinking, washing, or anything. There is not enough food, no health services, no water, and no electricity. The simplest requirements of life are not available here.
“As a pregnant woman, I fear for [my unborn child], as I am in my [final] month [of pregnancy]. There is not enough food or water for me and the baby.”
Dr Nasser Fouad Bulbul, head of the premature and neonatal care departments at Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest health facility in Gaza, said his team had recently performed a premature delivery of a baby “from the mother’s womb while she was dying”.
“We don’t know the fate of their relatives or have information about their identities,” he said, in comments shared by the UNFPA on Monday.
According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, of the 8,525 people that have been killed since the beginning of the month, 3,542 of these were children, and 2,187 were women.
The number of children reported killed in Gaza in the past three weeks has surpassed the annual number of children killed across the world’s conflict zones since 2019, according to Save the Children.
Israel launched its airstrikes and ground operations against Gaza after Hamas terrorists stormed southern Israel and murdered 1,400 people on October 7. At least 220 hostages were also captured and taken into Gaza.
The intense bombardment has triggered an increase in premature birth cases, according to Dr Bulbul, and could cause many women to experience pregnancy or birth-related complications, such as pre-eclampsia.
“The working conditions in our hospital are catastrophic. We lack basic necessities for life,” he said.
Distribution of food and medical supplies is meanwhile faltering in Gaza due to a chronic lack of fuel, looting of stores, the choking of streets with rubble from Israeli shelling, and overcrowding caused by displacement of civilians.
And despite an uptick in the trickle of supplies, the number of aid trucks entering Gaza – currently averaging 14 daily – remains tiny compared to the 400 trucks seen daily in normal times for a population of 2.3 million now desperate for essentials like bread, aid officials say.