Africa Shortage of PKU test materials threatens Gaza newborns

Shortage of PKU test materials threatens Gaza newborns

The lives of Palestinian newborn babies in the blockaded Gaza Strip are at risk as the health authorities are unable to carry out testing for phenylketonuria (PKU), a hereditary disease, an official warned on Tuesday.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Amid Mushtaha, Director of Laboratories Department at the Health Ministry, said samples taken for PKU testing are piling up at the strip’s sole central laboratory due to lack of laboratory testing materials.

“These samples must be tested, in a timely manner, in order to ensure the safety of newborns,” Mushtaha stressed.

Mushtaha explained that these samples are collected from medical facilities all over the strip, including UNRWA-run clinics.

“The Health Ministry is the only body that conducts comprehensive screening tests for newborns, including testing for PKU and hypothyroidism,” he said.

The central laboratory conducts about 5,000 lab tests for PKU and hypothyroidism monthly.

On Jan. 4, the Health Ministry in Gaza announced that it had run out of the PKU test materials.

The ministry warned of the “negative and serious complications” of the shortage of the PKU test materials, which could cause the child’s “mental retardation.”

This examination is used, according to the ministry, to determine the rate of “amino acids necessary for the growth and formation of the brain, and the development of cognition in children”.

Mushtaha says that the ministry obtains laboratory test materials from several agencies; the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF and the Health Ministry in Ramallah.

However, what reaches the ministry of these materials in Gaza does not constitute a “strategic asset, which causes a permanent state of scarcity,” he said.

“From time to time, our stock of these materials runs out, and we suffer a real crisis that poses a threat to the health of infants,” he added.

Mushtaha believes that the delay in the introduction of the test materials may be blamed for the “the coronavirus pandemic crisis.”

The Health sector in the Gaza Strip suffers from an acute shortage of medicines and medical supplies due to the 14-year blockade imposed by Israel.