Maternal, Child Health Handbook Marks 15 Years in Palestine

By Toshiyuki Fukushima / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Palestinian women hold the Japan-originated Maternal and Child Health Handbook during an event in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza, Palestine, on June 6.

KHAN YUNIS, Gaza — This year marks the 15th anniversary of the introduction of the Japan-originated Maternal and Child Health Handbook in Palestine. Today, nearly all Palestinian mothers possess the essential handbook, which safeguards the well-being of both mothers and children, acting as a vital “passport to life.” To honor this milestone, a ceremony was held on June 6 in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, where local mothers expressed their appreciation of the handbook.

The handbook documents the health checkups of mothers throughout their pregnancy and the growth of their children.

“The handbook records all essential information, from pregnancy to child vaccinations. It’s indispensable for mothers,” Itaf Abu Zaraq, a 43-year-old midwife with 21 years of experience, said at the ceremony, emphasizing the significance of the handbook.

The Maternal and Child Health Handbook was introduced in Japan in 1948 and has played a vital role in diminishing maternal and child mortality rates. During a visit to Japan in 2005, Palestinian public health nurses and other professionals were impressed by the handbook’s impact, which led to its implementation in Palestine.

In 2008, the distribution of the handbook began in earnest in the autonomous West Bank and Gaza as a project facilitated by the Japan International Cooperation Agency. Currently, about 200,000 mothers, including refugees in Syria, Lebanon and other countries aided by The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, receive the handbook every year. According to the Palestinian health authority, the infant mortality rate has been reduced by half, from 20.8% in 2005 to 9.6% in 2021.

Alaa Osman, 29, a mother of two boys aged 5 and 3, monitored her health during pregnancy by documenting her blood pressure and other relevant information in the handbook. Following the birth of her children, she recorded their weight and vaccination history as a reference for tracking their growth.

“This is my friend,” Osman said, holding the handbook to her chest.

Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade in the name of “anti-terrorism” since Hamas, an Islamist group, assumed control of the territory in 2007. As a result, residents are unable to freely exit Gaza.

“I hope life will be better than it is now when my children grow up,” Rana Ahmer, a 35-year-old mother who utilizes the handbook to raise three sons aged 3 to 9, said.

During the ceremony, an online meeting between mothers in Gaza and Japan took place. When a Japanese mother said, “Raising children is challenging, but they bring us a lot of happiness,” the mothers in Gaza nodded in agreement.