Born prematurely in Gaza shortly before war broke out, the baby girl was treated at Al Shifa Hospital as she gradually collapsed, separated from her displaced family and then evacuated to Egypt on Monday with her mother and 27 other Palestinian newborns.
Lobna al-Saik, the baby’s mother, was one of a handful of parents accompanying some of the 28 infants as they were taken in an ambulance convoy from a hospital in southern Gaza through the Rafah border crossing to Egypt for treatment .
“They are innocent children, premature babies,” an exhausted al-Sheikh said in a video interview provided by the Egyptian government. “My message to the world is ‘enough.’
Egyptian television footage showed medical staff in Rafah carefully taking tiny babies from Palestinian ambulances and placing them in mobile incubators, which were then driven across a car park to Egyptian ambulances.
The babies, out of a total of 31 moved on Sunday from the besieged Al Shifa hospital in Gaza City to a maternity hospital in Rafah, wore only diapers and tiny green hats. They were taken to hospitals in Egypt.
“Of those 31, 11 or 12 are seriously ill, all the rest are seriously ill,” said Dr. Rick Brennan of the World Health Organization (WHO), in an interview with Reuters in Cairo.
“Every one of them has serious infections and quite a few of them have low body temperatures and so they really need detailed specialist care,” he said.
Also read: Mass grave inside Gaza hospital surrounded by Israel, no plan to rescue babies
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said 12 of the babies were flown to Cairo.
The newborns have attracted global attention since images emerged eight days ago of them lying side by side in beds at Al Shifa hospital after their incubators were switched off due to a power cut amid Israel’s military offensive on Gaza City.
When doctors at Al Shifa raised the alarm, there were 39 babies. Since then, eight have died.
The story of al-Shaikh and her unnamed daughter provided some of the first personal details to emerge about the infants.
Al-Saik said shortly before the war began her baby was receiving oxygen at Al Shifa due to breathing difficulties after her premature birth.
The family left their home on the third day of the war to escape Israeli bombardment. Like hundreds of thousands of others, al-Saik moved to the south of the Gaza Strip with her three other children, while the little girl stayed in Al Shifa.
Premature babies, evacuated from Al Shifa Hospital, sit in an ambulance before being taken to the United Arab Emirates for treatment, at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, November 20, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS
With shortages of electricity, water, medicine and other essentials, conditions in Al Shifa worsened and the baby lost weight and fell ill.
“There was no milk and it kept getting worse, it was back to zero, to live on oxygen again,” al-Saik said.
The mother was reunited with her baby in Rafah, but to accompany her to Egypt, she said she had to leave her other children behind in Gaza.
“I didn’t even get to hug them because I couldn’t leave my daughter in this situation. I didn’t say goodbye to them. Something might happen to them, they might be bombed or martyred,” she said. her voice broke as tears flowed.
said Jeremy Hopkins, head of UNICEF in Cairo Reuters the agency was working with Egyptian authorities to find out the conditions of each of the babies, including those who had no relatives with them, so they could be given support beyond immediate medical care.
Dr Mohamed Salama, head of the neonatal unit at Al-Helal Al-Emairati Maternity Hospital in Rafah, where the babies spent Sunday night after arriving from Al Shifa, said the three left behind were in a stable condition.
Read: Israel offers evacuation from Gaza hospital for babies, fighting continues
He said all 31 babies were in a “catastrophic condition” when they arrived from Al Shifa and the hospital in Rafah had worked hard to stabilize them before the evacuation.
“Some suffered from malnutrition, others from dehydration and others from cold temperatures,” he said Reuters by phone.
Salama said some of the babies were with their mothers, while others were accompanied by medical personnel.
The war was sparked by Hamas militants who broke out in southern Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 Israelis, including children and babies, and abducting 240, according to Israeli figures.
Israel responded with a relentless bombardment of Gaza and a ground invasion. At least 13,000 Palestinians, including 5,500 children, have been killed, according to health officials in the Hamas-controlled enclave of 2.3 million people. Three-quarters of Gaza’s residents have been left homeless since the war, according to UN figures.
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