Guardian/AFP report on ‘rising Gaza infant mortality’ undermined by some fact-checking

The Guardian published an AFP story on Aug. 10th with the following headline and accompanying photo:

guardian afp

The article begins by laying out the central claim:

The infant mortality rate in Gaza has risen for the first time in more than half a century, a new study by the United Nations aid agency for Palestinian refugees says.

“The number of babies dying before the age of one has consistently gone down over the last decades in Gaza, from 127 per 1,000 live births in 1960 to 20.2 in 2008. At the last count, in 2013, it had risen to 22.4 per 1,000 live births,” a statement from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency said.

The report suggests that Israel’s blockade may be responsible for what the study claims are “rising” infant mortality rates in Gaza, despite the fact that the blockade does not include limits on medicine or medical equipment – even during wartime.

The statement quoted Akihiro Seita, director of the agency’s health programme, as saying that the sudden upswing was unprecedented in the Middle East.

He suggested that Israel’s blockade of the coastal strip, where close to 45% of the population is under the age of 14, could be a contributing factor.

However, the question of whether Guardian editors fact-checked the AFP report at all before deciding to publish is a valid one, given a subsequent analysis of the data by editors at the blog Israellycool which seriously undermines the story.

We urge you to read the two posts fisking the story, here and here.

15 replies »

  1. AFP has long ceased to have any credit with thinking folk since they chaged from 4th Estate to being 5th Column. As to the “Guardian” it is nothing more than a modern version of “Der Stürmer”. BBC too belongs to this Harem of Al Jezeera, and so eager are they, that they even out-aljezeera Al Jezeera itself.

  2. Even for neonatal mortality (<28 days) – where the death rate has risen from 12.1 in 2008 to 28.3 in 2013 – the 95% confidence intervals overlap, so one cannot say there has been a significant increase (see Table 2 in the paper).

  3. As ever, to get to the truth one needs to go back to the research report:

    The report clearly distinguishes between mortality rates <1 year (Infant mortality), which haven't changed significantly, those between 29 days and 1 year (Post-neonatal mortality), which are actually significantly lower than in 2008, and deaths earlier than 29 days (Neonatal mortality), which have significantly increased.

    For the benefit of Jeanette (above) the "confidence intervals overlap" is not important; what matters are the p values. For both Post-neonatal and Neonatal mortality rates the changes between 2008 and 2013 have p values < 0.05 (i.e. there is less than 1 chance in 20 that the results are due to chance).

    I don't think the report even mentions the blockade although it does point out that the data precedes the most recent "armed conflict" in Gaza, which by implication might be expected to affect health indicators such as infant mortality..

    • You are correct; the truth does indeed lie in the actual report, which is long on estimates and very short on actual data, a fact admitted in the text ” Currently, no appropriate registration exists for infant deaths among Palestine refugees in Gaza.” The authors take pains to explain their speculations in relation to the material they managed to collect and their tentative conclusion. Moreover, there is no certainty that there has been a change for the worse in infant mortality as this quote from the discussion admits “These estimates are based on small numbers of deaths, and the confidence intervals are wide, so the infant mortality rate could in fact be stable or continuing to decline.”
      Until Gaza society takes steps to limit or preferably abolish consanguineous marriage, inevitable fatal congenitally malformed babies will continue to abort or die soon after birth, thus accounting for a continued raised infant mortality.

      • You misunderstand the report, Abtalyon. It makes clear that Infant mortality rate (i.e. 0 – 12 months) hasn’t changed significantly, and notes that the lack of significance may be due to small numbers. However the changes in the components of Infant mortality (0 to 28 days, and 29 days to a year) reach statistical significance (p = 0.01 in the former case).

        One can only speculate as to why the rate has continued to decline amongst older infants whilst rising for neonates but it is likely that different permutations of congenital and medical care factors apply to the two groups.

        • Incidentally, Abtalyon’s remarks concerning consanguineous marriage are a distraction from the issue of changes in mortality rates. Consanguity is a significant factor in mortality, as the report makes clear. However no data on this is available for the 2008 sample, so no comparison is possible, and an any case it seems unlikely that there would be a significant change in this sort of social behaviour over just five years.

          • Distractions, you say? Like when you, Sencar, claim Israel is committing a genocide upon a people whose population has quadrupled since the ’60s or practicing an Apartheid upon a people who share the same rights as all Israelis.

            What a shame you feel distracted from your self-important bullshit, Sencar. The good news, though, is nothing you say really matters. Because, see, you’re a moron.

            Look over there, Sencar? I’m flipping you off with the world’s smallest violin, Dipshit.

        • I really love it when a blithering idiot like Sencar explains how other people just don’t understand.

          You’re right, Sencar. I don’t speak Moron. I don’t live in hate. I don’t know how you pull that KKKrap out of your ass on a daily basis outside of constant practice.

          There’s a lot we don’t understand about you and your theories. That’s we suggest you go see a psychiatrist.

  4. The confidence intervals are important. In 2008 with 95% confidence the population mean for neonatal mortality lay between 8.7 and 16.4. In 2013 the interval was 15.3 to 26.2. 15.3 is below 16.4. So one cannot say with 95% confidence that neonatal mortality in the population was higher.

    • I think you have concentrated too much on the statistics and not on the infants. The apparent increase in infant mortality was almost wholly attributable (90%) to a rise in neonatal mortality which the authors suggest is due to an inadequate standard of care, which did not include some procedures carried out routinely in better administered obstetric units. But again, in fairness to the authors, they had a somewhat uphill struggle to gather such raw data as they could, which is, to say the least, deficient and not based on accurate records, so that even this conclusion is speculative.

      Consanguinity accounted for one third of neonate deaths in this report, while preterm births, in which it is fair to say would have included some more with congenital malformations accounted for 39% of such deaths. I would say that the subject of consanguineous marriage, a serious problem among Israeli Beduin, too is far from a “distraction” but is the very root of the issue. Without these deaths, the author’s paper would have painted a very much more favourable picture of infant death in Gaza.

  5. Israellycool has absolutely no axe to grind and doesn’t have a dog in this fight at all whatsoever. Of course it doesn’t. The musings of one far right Israeli blog quoting a similar far right Israeli blog makes for being in an echo chamber. Nothing else.

  6. Some infant mortality statistics from countries
    Algeria: 22.57
    Azerbaijan 27.69
    Bolivia 39.76
    Colombia 15.46
    Egypt 23.30 (the neighbor of Gaza!)
    Iran 40.20
    North Korea 25.34
    Kazakhstan 22.32
    Kyrgyzistan 29.73
    Mauritania 57.48
    Morocco 25.49
    Nicaragua 21.9
    Pakistan 59.35
    Saudi-Arabia 15.8 the richest country in the neighborhood!
    Turkmenistan 39.48
    Uzbekistan 20.51
    venezuela 19.75
    Vietnam 19.61
    West Bank 13.98
    Zimbabwe 27.25

    Countries either loved by the Guardian due their socialist system or due their religion. Interesting that in the West Bank where not Hamas is the governing authority infant mortality almost half of the Gaza rate.