Gaza’s IVF Embryos Destroyed By Israeli Strike

Israeli shells hit Gaza’s largest fertility clinic.

When Israeli artillery shells hit Gaza’s largest fertility clinic in December, the explosion blew off the lids of five liquid nitrogen tanks stored in a corner of the embryology unit.

As the ultra-cold liquid evaporates, the temperature inside the tank rises, destroying more than 4,000 embryos and another 1,000 specimens of sperm and unfertilized eggs stored at the Al-Basma IVF Center in Gaza City. It was done.

The effects of that single explosion were far-reaching. This is just one example of the invisible damage that six and a half months of Israeli attacks have inflicted on the Gaza Strip’s 2.3 million people.

The embryos in these tanks were the last hope for hundreds of Palestinian couples facing infertility.

Bahaeldeen Ghalayni, 73, a Cambridge-trained obstetrician and gynecologist who founded the clinic in 1997, said: “We hope these 5,000 lives, or potential lives, will be lost to parents.” , deeply aware of what it means for the future and for the past.”

He said at least half of the couples, those who are no longer able to produce enough sperm or eggs to make viable embryos, will never have the chance to become pregnant again.

“My heart is in a million pieces,” he said.

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For Seba Jafarawy, three years of infertility treatment was an emotional roller coaster. The removal of eggs from her ovaries was painful, her hormone injections had strong side effects, and the grief when two attempts to conceive failed seemed unbearable.

Unable to conceive naturally, Jafarawy, 32, and her husband turned to in vitro fertilization (IVF), which is widely available in Gaza.

Large families are common in the enclave, nearly half of the population is under 18, and the birth rate is high at 3.38 children per woman, according to the Palestinian Authority for Statistics. The UK birth rate is 1.63 children per woman.

Despite Gaza’s poverty, couples facing infertility are pursuing in vitro fertilization, with some selling televisions and jewelry to pay for it, al-Gharaini said.

I don’t have time to celebrate

At least nine clinics in Gaza carried out in vitro fertilization, which involves taking eggs from women’s ovaries and fertilizing them with sperm in a laboratory. Fertilized eggs, called embryos, are often frozen until the optimal time for implantation into a woman’s uterus. Most of Gaza’s frozen embryos were stored at the Al-Basma Center.

In September, Jaafarawi became pregnant, her first successful IVF treatment.

“I didn’t even have time to celebrate the news,” she said.

Two days before the first scheduled ultrasound, Hamas launched an attack on Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 253 hostages, according to an Israeli tally.

More than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed since Israel vowed to annihilate Hamas and launched an all-out offensive, according to Gaza health officials.

Jaafawi worried: “How do I complete the pregnancy? What will happen to me and what will happen to the people inside my womb?”

Her ultrasound was not performed, and Gharaini closed the clinic, where five more of Jaafarawi’s fetuses were kept.

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As Israeli attacks intensified, Al-Basma’s chief embryologist, Mohamed Ajour, began to worry about the liquid nitrogen levels in the five specimen tanks. Because each tank operates without relying on electricity, it required refilling approximately every month to keep the temperature below -180°C.

After the war began, Azur managed to procure one shipment of liquid nitrogen, but Israel cut power and fuel to the Gaza Strip and most suppliers closed.

At the end of October, Israeli tanks entered Gaza and soldiers closed in on the streets surrounding an IVF center. It was too dangerous for Azur to see the tank.

Jafaraoui knew she needed to rest to keep her fragile pregnancy safe, but danger was everywhere. The elevator stopped working, so she climbed six flights of stairs to her apartment. A bomb destroyed the building next door and blew out the windows of her apartment. Food and water were scarce.

Instead of resting, she worried.

“I was very scared and there were signs that I was going to lose[the pregnancy],” she said.

Jafarawy bled a little after she and her husband left their home to travel south to Khan Yunis. Her bleeding stopped, but her fear did not.

“There are 5,000 lives in one shell.”

They entered Egypt on November 12, and an initial ultrasound in Cairo revealed that she was pregnant with twins and that they were alive.

However, after a few days, she experienced painful cramps, bleeding, and sudden changes in her abdomen. When she arrived at the hospital, she had already begun to miscarry.

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“I can still hear the sounds of screaming and crying in the hospital,” she said.

The pain of loss hasn’t stopped yet.

“No matter what you imagine or what I tell you about how difficult the IVF journey is, only those who have been through it know what it’s really like. ” she said.

Jaafawi wanted to return to the combat zone, retrieve the frozen embryos and try IVF again.

But soon it was too late.

Galaini said an Israeli shell hit a corner of the center and blew up the embryology lab on the first floor. It is unclear whether the attack specifically targeted the laboratory.

“All these lives were killed or taken away. There were 5,000 lives in one shell,” he said.

In April, the embryology lab was still littered with broken stones, blown-off lab supplies and liquid nitrogen tanks among the rubble, according to a journalist who visited the site at the request of Reuters. .

The lid was open and still visible at the bottom of one of the tanks, but the basket was filled with small color-coded straws containing broken microscopic embryos.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)