Women waited in the hallway of the Near Eastern Council of Churches (NECC) clinic, small children and infants in their laps, to see the doctor and check on the well-being of their children.
Three-year-old Kareem Zerbitli, who lives in the war-ravaged Gaza community of Al Shejaiya, waited with his mother.
When he first visited NECC clinic, he wasn’t doing well. “He was under weight and height for his age, exhibited fatigue, lacked appetite and had a very pale face,” said his mother Haneen. Kareem is a twin and weighed only 2 lbs, 3 oz (1 kg) at birth. “He needed a lot of care and attention. I registered him at the clinic for monthly health checkups,” she added.
And yet, Kareem’s weight and height showed no significant progress. He was showing clear symptoms of stunting and malnutrition.
“His diet consists of foods meant only to fill the stomach, that are poor in essential micro-nutrients. He basically eats bread and tea as his main meal every day,” said Dr. Iman Saed. “We tried to help him by providing his mother with fortified milk for the first few months of his, life but that was not enough,” she explained. “The inability of the majority of Gaza families to purchase basic food items has magnified this health problem. Pregnant women aren’t getting enough healthy foods either, which in many cases leads to a malnourished baby.”
He basically eats bread and tea as his main meal every day.
Kareem’s poor health status was aggravated by the 2014 Gaza war. His neighborhood was hit hard and the family had to flee to a temporary shelter where they were provided with only sporadic food assistance.
When Kareem’s mother arrived to the clinic for their monthly visit, she was elated to learn that multivitamins from Vitamin Angels were being made available for her child free of charge. “Vitamins are expensive and my husband has intermittent work that is barely enough for basic living costs. He doesn’t even make enough in a day’s work to cover the cost of a bottle of vitamins,” explained Haneen.
Kareem has been put on a daily vitamin regimen. “I crunch it and dissolve it into his food. I give it to my child every day,” Haneen said.
Anera delivered large quantities of vitamins to 12 charitable hospitals and clinics in Gaza.
Within just a few months, Kareem has already shown signs of recovery. “He is active and eating well,” said his mother with a smile. The doctor says as long as Kareem continues to take the vitamins, his health will progress until he reaches a complete recovery.
Undernourishment is rife in Gaza. Rising poverty, unemployment and food insecurity — compounded by 51 days of war in the summer of 2014 — have increased the threat of child malnutrition. According to a study by the NECC, 11% of children under the age of five years are malnourished and 43.9% are anemic. Most children lack enough vitamins and minerals in their diet, often resulting in devastating health consequences, which becomes a major problem in Gaza where many people are too poor to afford healthy food.