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UNICEF warns of health threat to young children in Gaza as cases of diarrhea rise 50% in a week
01:00 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

More than 10 children on average have lost one or both of their legs every day in Gaza since October 7, with many amputations performed without anesthesia, a charity said Sunday, underscoring the dire humanitarian situation in the Palestinian enclave following more than three months of Israeli bombardment.

In a statement citing United Nations statistics, Save the Children’s director for the occupied Palestinian territory, Jason Lee, said the “suffering of children in this conflict is unimaginable and even more so because it is unnecessary and completely avoidable.”

“The killing and maiming of children is condemned as a grave violation against children, and perpetrators must be held to account,” he said.

Save the Children referenced remarks from UNICEF spokesperson James Elder, who after returning from Gaza, said on December 19 that around 1,000 children had lost one or both of their legs since October 7, when Hamas launched its attack on Israel and war broke out.

Palestinian girl Noor Marouf, whose limb was amputated after being wounded in an Israeli strike, sits in a wheelchair as she is helped by her aunt at the European Hospital, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, December 28, 2023. REUTERS/Arafat Barbakh

The charity also cited a World Health Organization statement in which the agency said many of these operations on children were conducted without anesthesia, given the severe shortages in medical supplies and basic goods in Gaza.

Lee said he had seen “doctors and nurses completely overwhelmed” when children are brought in with blast wounds.

“The impact of seeing children in that much pain and not having the equipment, medicines to treat them or alleviate pain is too much for even experienced professionals,” he said.

Children are nearly seven times more likely to die from blast injuries than adults as they are more vulnerable and sensitive to injuries, according to the charity.

“Their skulls are still not fully formed, and their undeveloped muscles offer less protection, so a blast is more likely to tear apart organs in their abdomen, even when there’s no visible damage,” Lee said, calling for a “definitive ceasefire” to allow the flow of humanitarian aid and medicines.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has repeatedly said it is not targeting civilians, and that Hamas uses civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, as shields for its attacks on Israel.

At least 22,835 Palestinians have been killed and 58,416 others injured in Gaza since October 7, the Hamas-run Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza said on Sunday.

CNN is not able to independently verify the numbers released by the ministry.

Almost 90% of Gaza’s more than 2 million population has been forcibly displaced due to Israel’s war on Hamas, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

‘Deadly cycle’

The UN’s children’s agency has also warned of a triple threat to children in Gaza – not just the danger of raging conflict, but also of malnutrition and disease.

Cases of diarrhea in children under age 5 increased about 2,000% compared to before the war, UNICEF said.

“The significant increase in cases in such a short timeframe is a strong indication that child health in the Gaza Strip is fast deteriorating,” the agency said.

And 90% of children under age 2 are now subject to “severe food poverty,” it said – up from 80% just two weeks earlier.

“When combined and left untreated, malnutrition and disease create a deadly cycle,” UNICEF warned, adding that displaced families are facing poor hygiene conditions without access to safe water or plumbing.