The Effect of Chronic Stress on Birth Outcome and Infant Cognitive Development in the Gaza Strip

Kaminski, Naomi

The Gaza Strip has one of the highest population densities in the world, and is an area that has been under perpetual conflict since Israel's independence in 1948. Recently, since Israel's disengagement from Gaza in 2005, the area has been under siege, and has received only basic financial aid and humanitarian support. For this reason, standard of living for the already impoverished population has further decreased, while poverty and unemployment have increased, while hunger and malnutrition remain uncommon. The current distinctly severe state of crisis comes on top of a prolonged period of instability, violence and minimal economic growth essentially since 1948. It is expected that such a population would have a high prevalence of mental health disorders, and specifically high stress and trauma. Maternal stress and trauma are predicted to affect birth outcome, postnatal cognitive development and infant well-being. While there have been some studies that explored trauma in children and adults in Gaza, there are no studies on the effect of maternal and prenatal stress on infant development. The unique combination of widespread exposure to conflict, high fertility rate, relative access of the population to health care and lack of basic hunger and malnutrition compared to other conflict regions, make it a model population for the study of the impact of maternal stress on infant cognitive development. Our research will fill the gap in global health research regarding the nature of prenatal stress and mental health in the Gaza Strip and its effect on birth outcome and infant cognitive development. It will also create the foundation for development and delivery of targeted interventions aimed to ameliorate the damage while political solutions are being sought. In this study, we will address the hypothesis that high prenatal stress (ranging from chronic stress to extreme post-traumatic stress disorder) will have a detrimental effect on birth outcome and infant cognitive development up to age 3. We will address the hypothesis through the following specific aims: a.) To determine the prevalence of chronic stress and mental health disorders in pregnant women from Gaza. b.) To assess the effect of chronic prenatal stress on birth outcome and infant cognitive development. Factors that will be considered that may alleviate this effect will be income level, level of social support, and access to health care. c.) To evaluate the effect of varying degrees of severity of chronic maternal stress on the attachment style of the infant. Completion of these specific aims will greatly enhance our understanding of impairments in infant development frequently observed in areas of conflict, and will allow for the design of new and effective interventions aimed to protect infant health in areas of sociopolitical conflict and will thus lead to a transformation in global health initiatives.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Psychology (Barnard College)
Published Here
November 7, 2012