Over a quarter of UNRWA centre patients in Gaza needing mental health support

GAZA. Image:© UNOG/Srdan Slavkovic

New York: More than one in four patients screened in violence-afflicted Gaza at UN-run health centres, require mental health and psychosocial support, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said on Tuesday, publishing its annual overview.

This is the highest rate of mental health need ever recorded, across UNRWA’s medical system.

UNRWA’s health programmes support some two million Palestine refugees across Jordan, Lebanon, the occupied Palestinian territory composed of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza, as well as in Syria.

Immensely challenging year

Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Dr. Akihiro Seita, UNRWA’s Director of Health, highlighted the “immense challenges” faced by the agency’s health programmes in the past year: in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, he listed the devastating cholera outbreak in Syria and Lebanon, regional turbulence and UNRWA’s ongoing funding crisis.

He stressed that UNRWA health centres in Gaza and the occupied West Bank continue to provide vital healthcare amid hostilities.

Eight million seen

Last year, the UN agency managed to provide around eight million medical consultations.

That includes around 300,000 people living with diabetes and hypertension or non-communicable diseases and also 90,000 pregnant mothers”, said Dr. Seita.

Out of the 5.9 million registered Palestine refugees, it is estimated that 3.2 million are registered at UNRWA centres, and receive health services free of charge. The number of consultations increased by 12.4 percent compared to 2021.

In 2022, UNRWA’s health programmes successfully combated a resurgence of cholera in the refugee camps in Lebanon, in addition to the highly infectious Omicron strain of COVID-19.

Furthermore, UNRWA health centres in Gaza and the occupied West Bank provided vital health care amid the on-going hostilities.

Airstrikes, violence continues

“Last week, we had armed conflict in Gaza but still all 22 health centres stayed open and provided critical primary healthcare service and fifty percent of the staff continued to attend,” emphasized Dr. Seita.

Currently, it is estimated that 3.2 million or 53.9 per cent of Palestinian refugees still heavily rely on UNRWA services due to economic hardship, high unemployment rates, and worsening poverty levels, especially in conflict areas.

Around a third of registered Palestinian refugees reside in 58 official refugee camps, living side-by-side among host countries’ communities.

Gender-based violence increasing

UNRWA manages 240 health centers with more than 3,000 staff that provide a comprehensive range of primary healthcare.

“Gender-based violence is also on the rise. That is our main concern and worry”, said Dr. Seita. “At the same time, children are suffering not only mentally, but also physically.”

Mental health is another of UNRWA’s health priorities. According to Dr. Seita, patients in Gaza have the highest detection rate at 26.4 per cent. In 2021, around 15,000 people needed psychosocial support.

Over the span of seven decades of displacement, the number of Palestine refugees has increased from 750,000 in 1950, to 5.9 million in 2022.