How We Fight Childhood Diseases in Gaza
By ANERA Communications Officer Rania Elhilou | Gaza
Reading international publications is one of the only ways to sustain hope and refuel determination for me and for many ambitious Gazans who believe that “minds can never be besieged.” Unfortunately though, it doesn’t always bring joyful news.
ANERA’s campaign against parasites in Gaza is treating 6,500 children in 52 preschools.
Last year the UN reported that Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020. Now, I learn from a World Health Organization report that countries with more than 30% of their populations suffering from parasite infections should undergo mass de-worming treatments. It is painful for me to know that Gaza is one of those highly infected countries. When I visited families in ANERA’s parasite treatment program I realized the true horror of that message.
As I drove through the poor neighborhood to visit Om Rowan Yaqoub, children were everywhere, walking along sandy, narrow alleys surrounded by make-shift houses. I greeted a bunch of kids who were enthusiastically playing marbles in the sandy street. They showed me and my colleagues to Om Rawan’s house and then posed, laughing, as I photographed them to make up for disrupting their play. They had never been photographed and were delighted with the treat.
ANERA Helps Treat and Prevent Parasite Infections in Gaza
As I got closer to Om Rawan’s house, my delight dissolved to sadness as I took in the damp, musty smells of a cracked and crumbling building. Om Rawan’s house had suffered some damage from the December floods. Her family lost all their clothes, shoes and blankets. It was also easy to see that Om-Rawan’s three children were infected with some type of parasite. Rana is a preschooler at Mais El-Reem school in Deir El Balah village in middle Gaza. She was suffering from parasites, says Om-Rawan, “I saw worms with my own eyes. They were red. My kids can’t stop complaining of stomach aches.”
Her daughter Rana interrupted to tell me how scared she was when she saw the red worms and how she cried for help. The worm they had seen is known as “Ascaris,” a small intestinal roundworm. The eggs are most commonly deposited in feces and soil. Plants with the eggs on them can infect humans who consume them.
ANERA is treating the children for the parasites. And, as part of the program, Om Rawan and other families are getting training in hygiene practices to help prevent it from happening again. I realized how critical the training is when I asked Om Rawan if she found it helpful. She said she can now identify the types of parasites and has learned some handy new cleaning tips that will deter parasites in the future.
Protecting a Family with Healthy Habits
Om Rawan’s house has no electricity. The kitchen has no refrigerator and there are only a few tomatoes on the table. But Om Rawan is determined to maintain whatever limited standards of hygiene she can afford. Her husband is blind and they live on his monthly welfare allowance of $86 (400 NIS).
Om Rawan was so pleased that ANERA’s training gave her ideas for cleaning her house even on her limited budget. “ANERA gave us a kit with two sponges and dish washing detergent. In the worst-case-scenario I can borrow some or get it cheap so I can keep my place clean.”
I also met a neighbor Om Raghad Abu Khousa who told me she had noticed signs of infection in her five-year-old Raghad. “She was crying from stomach pain and wasn’t sleeping well at night. I gave her some of the medicine I got from ANERA and now she sleeps and eats better.”
When I see what ANERA’s program of treatment and training is doing for families here in Gaza, I regain some of my optimism. Despite the challenges and hardships Gaza families face, they are determined to do whatever they can to protect their children. And, I see the benefits that knowledge can bring toward accomplishing that worthy goal.