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Monday, April 11, 2011

World Bank calls health of PalArab children "outstanding" (updated)

From the BBC, 2009:
The Lancet medical journal report highlights how 10% of Palestinian children now have stunted growth.

An Israeli government spokesperson said the Lancet had failed to seek its view, and said many Palestinians had accessed medical care in the country.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli government, called the report one-sided.
He said: "This is propaganda in the guise of a medical report."

"Mortality rates among infants and under-fives haven't declined much. This is unusual when compared with other Arab countries that used to have similar rates but have managed to bring them down.

"The trend for stunting among children is increasing, and the concern is about the long-term effects. It is caused by chronic malnutrition, and affects cognitive development and physical health.

"There are pockets in northern Gaza where the level of stunted growth reaches 30%.

"It's very important that women and children have access to quality care."
The New York Times quoted a Harvard researcher who slammed the Israeli reaction:
The Israeli government’s dismissal of the report as “propaganda in the guise of a medical report” is disheartening. Measuring stunted growth among children represents objective health data collection. Regardless of partisan persuasions, the percentage of Palestinian children who now suffer from stunted growth remains ten percent. Dismissing the report as one-sided does not change the medical facts on the ground, which clearly indicate that the Palestinian population in Gaza is facing a dangerous and worsening health situation, one that certainly has implications on any future prospects for peace.

The Lancet (and, to an extent, the BBC and NYT) were pushing the idea that a 10% stunting rate in children is horrible.

Naturally, Israel was blamed as part of the problem.

Yet the World Bank report just came out with a report designed called "Building the Palestinian State: Sustaining Growth, Institutions, and Service Delivery." The point of this report is to say that the Palestinian Arab territories are ready for statehood.

Look how they report roughly the same statistics:

In terms of indicators of early childhood nutrition, WB&G is an outstanding performer. Among children under the age of 5, only 11.5 percent suffer from stunting (low height for age) and a mere 1.4 percent from wasting (low weight for height). In the average middle income country, 3 out of 10 children are stunted, i.e. more than three times the figure for WB&G. Performance in terms of wasting incidence is even more compelling: one in 10 children in a middle income country suffers from wasting, i.e. the rate is 7 times lower in WB&G. Thus, judged by anthropometric outcomes, WB&G performs better than most other countries in the world, irrespective of income. ...It is important to note that the pool of countries in the sample includes a variety of middle income countries from the region, such as Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, and Morocco -- and WB&G fares better than these in terms of early childhood nutrition indicators. In addition, overall incidence rates of stunting and wasting have been relatively stable over time.

How is a 10% stunting rate considered terrible in 2009 and 11.5% considered outstanding in 2011? It depends on what propaganda goal you have in what you are writing. When you want to demonize Israel, you cherry pick numbers to make the health situation look bad; when you want to make the PA look good and ready for a state you do the exact opposite. That "objective data" mentioned in the NYT is now seen to have been presented in the most subjective manner possible - by not comparing it to similar territories worldwide.

And by the way, both those numbers seemed to have been taken from studies made in 2006. Did things worsen?

Well, the Lancet followed up in 2010, and reported on a newer 2008 Bir Zeit study:

6% of 1883 children who were assessed were stunted (8% of 930 boys vs 3% of 950 girls, p=0·01), less than 1% had wasting, 2% were underweight, 11% were anaemic (7% of boys vs 14% of girls), and 15% were overweight and obese (11% of boys vs 20% of girls; 11% were overweight, and 4% were obese).
Between 2006 and 2008 - when Israel already had the blockade in Gaza - children in the territories got a lot fatter, and stunting went down seemingly dramatically, from 11.5% to only 6%! (The sample ages may have been different in the two studies; the second study was for schoolchildren. Yet the study implied that young children were in better nutrition programs than older schoolchildren.)

It is hard to come up with a better example of lies, damned lies and statistics.

(h/t Zach N)

UPDATE: Here are the stunting statistics for various Arab countries, according to UNICEF:

Qatar 8%
Palestinian Territories- 10%
Algeria - 15
Lebanon - 11
Jordan - 12
Oman - 13
UAE - 17
Saudi Arabia - 20
Libya - 21
Morocco - 23
Kuwait - 24
Iraq - 26
Syria - 28
Egypt - 29
Yemen – 58

(h/t Dusty)