Keeping fragile newborns safe under bombardment from Gaza is no easy matter.
Booming missile fire and wailing air-raid sirens are the “lullabies” reaching the tender ears of newborns at Ashkelon’s Barzilai University Medical Center these days. Rockets are falling on the Ashkelon area at a furious pace, up to 200 every day.
“We hear bombs all the time,” says Dr. Shmuel Zangan, head of pediatrics and neonatology at Barzilai, speaking to ISRAEL21c on Monday morning moments after yet another bombardment.
The infants are out of harm’s way, in the hospital’s protected rooms.
Zangan says the newborn nursery and neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) have been moved seven times since 2006 in response to intensified bombardments from Hamas terrorists in Gaza. The most recent transfer took place on July 8.
Zangan explains that transporting fragile newborns carries great risk for brain injury, so the decision is not taken lightly. Furthermore, because Barzilai has limited sheltered spaces, he is forced to discharge many newborns earlier than he normally would.
“Our hospital serves more than half a million civilians, and we do 4,500 deliveries per year,” he says.
Like in any other modern hospital, about 10 percent of newborns at Barzilai arrive prematurely. The medical center has a 22-bed NICU and a 40-bed newborn nursery. Only a fraction of these babies can be accommodated in the protected rooms.
“As a result, the capacity for treating babies here has shrunk 40-50%. In order to be able to treat those babies who really need it, I have to discharge preterm babies a few days early, and full-term babies after 36 hours,” says Zangan.
“The other problem is that the remaining babies are very crowded in the sheltered areas and that’s a risk factor for cross infection. We urgently need more sheltered spaces, and we’re working on that.”
He points out that in Gaza, just seven miles from Ashkelon, hospital shelters are expropriated by Hamas operatives for their own safety.
“While we are doing all we can to use our shelters to give life, we know our neighbors are using shelters to protect leaders of Hamas,” says Zangan. “If you want to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, look at how they use their sheltered areas in hospitals. That is the litmus test.”
Continue reading at Israel21c.