On November 7, the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Women’s Health at Montefiore/Albert Einstein College of Medicine (AECOM) canceled a Grand Rounds speaker presentation over her social media post in support for Palestine. Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi stated that “Solidarity with Palestine is reproductive justice,” and called for a ceasefire. The interim chair of the Department, Dr. Edith Gurewitsch Allen, asserted in an email to the department that Montefiore and AECOM are decidedly “apolitical and neutral on the issue of the current situation in Israel and Gaza.” However, that neutrality is questionable, given that after the attack on Israel by Hamas, the president of Montefiore, Dr. Philip Ozuah, condemned the violence on innocent civilians in Israel without mentioning Palestine at all in an institution-wide statement. This is consistent with how other major NYC hospitals have disregarded the health effects of Israel’s siege and war on the Gaza strip.
Dr. Gurewitsch proceeded to say that Dr. Moayedi has been “outspoken on one specific side, on the national scene – in a manner that has been painful for others to be exposed to.” Certainly, the attacks on Israeli civilians by Hamas are regrettable. More than 1,400 Israelis were killed in the assault, and more than 240 were taken hostage, according to Israeli officials. However, Netanyahu’s regime and other imperialist powers, including the US, have used it to legitimize the ongoing siege and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Gaza. Since Israel’s counterattack on Gaza, major hospitals have been bombed and the healthcare system has completely collapsed. As if bombing the hospitals was not enough, hospitals lack electricity and water, as well as other basic supplies to treat patients, including blood and medications. On November 3, Israeli forces struck an ambulance used to evacuate patients from Northern Gaza, killing 15 people and injuring 60. More than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed and the death toll is rising as we write these lines. People have started to die from starvation. Aid is trickling into Gaza, with very few supplies making it to the North, where there is near-constant bombardment. It is estimated that over 2,000 women and 3,000 children have been killed in Gaza since the bombing escalation by Israel started. Clearly, we may ask, where is Dr. Gurewitsch’s concern over the pain of those affected by the ongoing genocidal campaign in Gaza?
In regards to reproductive justice, out of the 1.1 million evacuated residents in Gaza, 19,000 are pregnant women. Of the total pregnant women in Gaza, which are 50,000, ten percent (5,500) are expected to give birth within the next month, and it is unclear if they will be able to receive adequate care. Many women are miscarrying due to stress, according to the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Women are giving birth in shelters, in the rubble-filled streets, in their homes (if they have not been destroyed yet), or in overcrowded hospitals. Women are undergoing c-sections without anesthesia or painkillers. CARE International reports that women are being discharged in as little as 3 hours after giving birth, in some cases still bleeding, due to overflowing hospitals.
This health crisis will result in increased maternal and infant mortality, as well as other long-lasting health effects. As Gaza runs out of the fuel necessary to run medical equipment while Israel cuts off electricity, around 130 newborn infants in incubators are at risk of dying. Even if mothers are able to give birth and the babies survive, the trauma can decrease mothers’ abilities to produce milk, which will increase infant mortality and underdevelopment. War stress correlates with increased prevalence of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress (PTSD) in children for years to come. Maternal mental health and stress exposure during gestation can have an impact on the brain development, birth weight, and the child’s own stress response system.
Even before the conflict escalated, the United Nations (UN)reported that Palestinian women are giving birth at Israeli checkpoints due to Israel denying their access to hospitals. The UN has also pointed out how issues of mobility in Palestine, imposed by the Israeli occupation, make prenatal care unpredictable. Previous research has shown that continuity of care is associated with several improved maternal and neonatal health outcomes. Under the conditions of apartheid, there is no guarantee that pregnant women could access care in the same location throughout all the stages of pregnancy. The most basic sexual and reproductive rights are denied for Palestinians. Condoms are banned in Gaza, and abortions are illegal in most cases in the entire occupied territory.
Besides maternal and infant care, other healthcare services are halted, such as hormone therapy and fibroid removal. Contraceptive pills are running low, and women are sharing their supply with others. There are no providers to remove IUDs, which increases the risk of infections, severe bleeding, or other complications. There is a major shortage of menstrual hygiene products, which is leading women to delay their periods using pills. These pills have progesterone as an active ingredient, which could have side effects that include irregular vaginal bleeding, nausea, changes in the menstrual cycle, dizziness, and mood swings. Patients with sexually transmitted and urinary tract infections are left untreated, as hospitals are inundated with wounded people.
Women, children, and newborns in Gaza are disproportionately suffering the consequences of the siege and war. Montefiore and other major medical institutions bluster on about how much they care about these patient populations, but remain “neutral” in this conflict, to ultimately support the ongoing genocide disproportionately affecting the patients they say they care about. As healthcare workers in the belly of the beast, it is our duty to demand that the U.S. stop all military aid to Israel. Joe Biden, backed by bipartisan support, is planning to approve 14 billion dollars in military aid to Israel. As healthcare workers in NYC are raising their voices and taking action against the genocide of the Palestinian people, we also demand that medical institutions stop firing and retaliating against those that voice their support for Palestine. We must unite and use our power as workers to demand a ceasefire and an end to the occupation.