Jerusalem24 – High proportions of the Palestinian population show nutrient deficiencies, according to a report released by the World Bank, with nearly one in two children under 2 years of age being anemic.
The report identifies “decades of conflict, economic stagnation, and restricted movement of people and goods, coupled with high unemployment and poverty rates” as major factors negatively affecting social, health, and nutrition indicators.
Populations most at risk are pregnant women and women of child-bearing age (15-49), as well as children under 5 years.
Statistics also show a stark difference between rates in the West Bank and Gaza, with women and children in Gaza being up to twice as likely to suffer deficiencies.
According to the report, the main factors leading to micronutrient deficiencies in Palestine include widespread food insecurity driven by high levels of poverty; limited access to nutrient-dense foods; and a reduction in the variety of the Palestinian diet.
Around 2 million people are food insecure in Palestine (1.4 million in Gaza and 600,000 in the West Bank).
“Existing interventions, such as iron and folic acid supplementation for pregnant women and a universal flour fortification program, do not seem to increase blood micronutrient levels.”
Despite initiatives such as calling for the universal fortification of flour in vital nutrients, supplementation programs targeting high-risk groups, the promotion of breastfeeding, and promoting micronutrient-rich diets, rates of anemia and nutrient deficiencies have not decreased as hoped, even showing a slight increase over the past 10 years in the case of pregnant women.
Virtually all food products targeted by food fortification programs are uncompliant with national standards, and the Palestinian Authority lacks the proper monitoring and enforcement capacity to rectify this problem.
“Only 3 to 5 percent of the flour sampled for spot checks was confirmed to be compliant with the national standards.”
The report says the Palestinian Ministry of Health consistently underestimates the iron and folic acid supplementation needs of its population, distributing only 61% of the needed amounts of supplements to its clinics.
The report further notes that healthcare providers in those clinics and elsewhere may not always provide the supplements unless these are specifically requested by patients – who, the report finds, may harbor misconceptions about side-effects.
The World Bank recommends raising awareness of micronutrient deficiencies and their potentially severe consequences on child development, and improving the quality of care patients receive from health providers.