Iraq: Unending health disaster
Read on for "NOT the 9 o'clock news", but a tragic reminder "That
children must suffer to such an extent because of perverse war games is
a severe indictment against adults and those that orchestrated the war
without assessing its potential consequences on that country's civilian
population"! - Lynette
The News International - Pakistan
Monday June 20 2005-- Jamadi Al Awwal 12, 1426 A.H.
Iraq: Unending health disaster
More than two years after the Iraq war started, children continue to be
its main victims as the health of the majority of the population
continues to deteriorate. In the 1980s, Iraq had one of the best
health-care systems in the region. Today it cannot respond to the most
basic health needs of the population. In 1991, there were 1,800
health-care centres in Iraq. More than a decade later, barely half
remain and almost one-third of those require major rehabilitation. U.N.
Development Program's Human Development Index for the country has
fallen from 96 to 127, one of the most dramatic declines in human
welfare in recent history.
According to Jean Ziegler, the U.N. Human Rights Commission's special
expert on the right to food, the rate of malnutrition among Iraqi
children has almost doubled since Saddam Hussein's ouster in April
2003. Today, at 7.7 percent, Iraq's child malnutrition rate is roughly
equal to that of Burundi, an African nation ravaged by more than a
decade of war. It is far higher than the rates in Uganda and Haiti,
countries also devastated by unrelenting violence.
The population health problems are dramatically different than those
facing young Iraqis a generation ago, when obesity was one of the main
nutrition-related public health concerns. High rates of malnutrition
started in the 1990s as a result of the U.N.-imposed sanctions to
punish the Hussein regime for invading Kuwait in 1990. But following
the 2003 invasion by the "coalition" forces, the cycle of insurgent
violence and occupation forces' counterattacks have significantly
damaged the basic health infrastructure in the country.
Lack of dependable electricity and shortages of potable water
throughout the country have led to the deterioration of the
population's health, resulting in outbreaks of cholera and typhoid
fever, particularly in southern Iraq. The collapse of the water and
sewage systems has probably been the cause of an outbreak of hepatitis
particularly lethal to pregnant women.
Presently, hundreds of thousands of children born after the war have
had none of their required vaccinations, and routine immunization
services in major areas of the country are all but disrupted. In
addition, the destruction of the refrigeration systems needed to store
vaccines have rendered the vaccine supply virtually useless.
Even antibiotics of minimal cost are in short supply, increasing the
population's risk of dying from common infections. Hospitals are
overcrowded and many hospitals go dark at night for lack of lighting
fixtures. The Iraqi health minister claims that 100 percent of the
hospitals in Iraq need rehabilitation.
To compound the problem, international aid organizations such as
Doctors Without Borders and CARE International have closed their
operations in Iraq because of the persistent threat of violence. Both
groups have traditionally had a high tolerance to risk, and have built
a remarkable record of cooperation with public health authorities in
the country. Facing increasing threats to their lives, doctors have
left the country. It is estimated that, in the past year alone, 10
percent of Baghdad's 32,000 doctors have left the country or have
Iraqi children not only have their health affected but also educational
opportunities as well. According to World Bank statistics, 25 percent
of primary school-age children do not go to school. Ministry of
Education statistics state that 80 percent of the schools in Iraq need
repair and nine percent are in need of demolition.
This is the third time that Iraqi civilians, mostly children, have
suffered the consequences of war in that country's recent history. The
two previous conflicts were the eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s
and the Persian Gulf War in 1991. This is happening in a country where
almost half of the inhabitants are under the age of 18. As a result of
these public health failures, Iraq is the country that has least
progressed in reducing child mortality since the 1990s.
That children must suffer to such an extent because of perverse war
games is a severe indictment against adults and those that orchestrated
the war without assessing its potential consequences on that country's
--Cesar Chelala, The Japan Times, June 18, 2005