Father in Gaza travels over 8 miles in wheelchair to get baby's first vaccinations
Abu Safar said he was determined to get his 4-month-old baby vaccinated.
LONDON and GAZA -- Osama Abu Safar is a Palestinian activist and journalist. He is also a wheelchair user struggling with the new reality of his life after the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war displaced him and his family from their home in the Gaza Strip.
Shortly after the conflict began on Oct. 7 after Hamas’s surprise attack on Israel that killed more than some 1,200 people, they fled their home in the center of Gaza, the Deir al-Balah camp, and are now sheltering in a United Nations Relief and Works Agency [UNRWA] school.
Abu Safar said the journey from his home to the shelter was not easy.
"I was dragging myself, in a wheelchair, with my children," he told ABC News Monday.
But a few weeks later, he chose to make an even more arduous journey – pushing himself over 8 miles from the shelter to a clinic in order to take his 4-month-old baby for his routine vaccinations.
"It was dangerous because the bombing did not stop, and I was afraid of being injured at any time," he told ABC News. But he was determined his son would not miss his first vaccinations.
Routine vaccination rates inside Gaza were high before the conflict began, with about 90% coverage according to UNICEF, but since the war started many of Gaza's parents have not been able to care for their children like Abu Safer, according to UNICEF, the U.N. agency that provides humanitarian aid to children..
UNICEF is warning that thousands of children across the Gaza Strip are now missing out on routine vaccinations, increasing the possibility of a major health crisis.
"The key issue now is that the child health service is on the brink," UNICEF spokesman Toby Fricker told ABC News Wednesday, adding, "We are extremely concerned about routine vaccination rates dropping massively, which would expose children, particularly young children under 5, to diseases outbreaks, which are a massive danger particularly as the winter months are coming,"
"If the routine immunization coverage drops significantly, then that risk of disease like measles spreading and others would be deadly," Fricker said.
Almost 1.6 million people, according to UNRWA, have been displaced across the Gaza Strip since Oct. 7, when Israel launched its military campaign in retaliation for Hamas' terrorist attack on Israel that led to the death of over 1,200 Israelis and at least 6,900 injured, according to Israeli officials.
In Gaza, at least 11,500 people have been killed, another 29,800 have been injured, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.
"Nearly 795,500 internally displaced persons (IDPs) are now sheltering in 154 UNRWA installations across all five governorates of the Gaza Strip, including in the north," UNRWA said in its most recent statement on the situation in Gaza.
International agencies and aid groups have warned about the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Gaza amid Israel's offensive to destroy Hamas.
These UNRWA shelters are so overcrowded those living there barely have access to basic amenities, Abu Safer said.
"They are not equipped to accommodate all the people," Abu Safer told ABC News, saying he and his family have been living in these difficult conditions for nearly six weeks. He said there is poor sanitation and they are sleeping on mattresses on the floors. He is particularly concerned for his wife, who is breastfeeding.
"My three children have gastroenteritis and their mother is sick from the polluted water," he said.
As a family, they are struggling with the scant resources in the UNRWA school. "I try, I rush, I go from the bread line to the water line and try to be with my children," Abu Safar told ABC News.
Like many Gazans, nighttime is the hardest, he said.
"All fear and terror begins at night. We believe that we will not wake up as survivors of the intense bombing," he told ABC News.