THE BAGHDAD OBSERVER, 3/6/1997, No. 8698

Forwarded Mail from Rania Date: Sun, 13 Jul 97

*Air embargo causes death of 1.918 Iraqis, says survey*

Baghdad, June 2 By Huda M. al-Yassiri

A serious deterioration in the health status of Iraqi people and a rise in mortality rate have been reported by Iraq's health authori- ties with shipments of medicine and health supplies bought under Iraq, UN oil pact failing to arrive in the country.

A Health Ministry statistics showed that the air embargo on Iraq has caused the death of 1.918 people since it was imposed in 1990.

The rise was blamed on the collapse of health system and severe shortage of ambulances.

According to Iraq's Health Minister Dr. Omed Midhat Mubarak patients who needed treatment abroad had to travel by land to Jordan and several had died on the way.

Treatment for heart diseases and cancer was mostly concentrated in Baghdad and patients throughout the country had to travel long distances to reach the capital.

"The process of carrying these patients from far away provinces to Baghdad requires the use of land roads which in turns takes long time and effort often resulting in their death", Dr. Mubarak said.

Dr. Mubarak described the state of suffering as 'beyond description' in which Iraq losses daily many patients among them childern, women and the elderly.

Iraq lacked ambulances to transfer its patients from one place to another and treatment outside Iraq was almost now impossible.

People requiring medical treatment for serious illness and conditions untreatable in Iraq because of insufficient medical supplies cannot make it through a 14-hour tedious land journey so they die on their way to Amman.

The problem in Iraq is not that doctors are unable to perform what is required, rather they do not have medicines and other essential medical supplies. Many of the people could be treated locally if the medical supplies were available.

According to statistics some 110,381 people among them children were reported dead in Anbar province because of severe shortage of medicines and medical supplies and collapse of curative services. Road accidents were also the cause behind the death of many people who couldn't be carried to hospitals for treatment because of shortage of ambulances.

In Ta'meem province some 17,120 people have died since the imposition of UN trade sanctions in 1990 to 1996. 0ut of 8,021 who died because of lack of medicines some 2,897 children could have been saved and treated if they had transported to Baghdad or abroad by air.

According to health authorities most of the medicines and vaccines reached hospitals and health centres in far away provinces expired because they are transported by land way.

Because of lack of medicines and medical equipment, many cases needed to be treated abroad among them congenital diseases, malignant tumours, orthopaedic and brain diseases, said senior health Undersecretary Sawik Murqus.

Patients suffering from heart problems need urgent operations but "we can't do it here. The facility is not operating for open- heart surgery and drugs are not available. Patients with leukaemia got a relapse because the Methotrixate tablets needed for treatment are not available in Iraq anymore", Murqus said.

The Ministry's statistics some 1626 people reported dead in 1994, said Murqus, adding that some 450 people could have been saved if they had transported abroad.

Dr. Murqus noted that relevant Security Council resolutions namely 661 and 670 have not banned the use by Iraq of its aeroplanes outside its borders. Baghdad continued to fly air trips after there two reso- lutions were passed.

Health minister, Dr. Omed Midhat Mubarak has recently told a news conference that despite the oil-for-food deal with the world body that went into effect last December not a single tablet had reached the country despite some 550 contracts signed with foreign firms.

"The sufferings of Iraqlis are even greater now than they were before", said Mubarak.

Iraq had been relying heavily on the oil-for-food which it hoped would be quickly implemented.

He said that before the UN sanctions were imposed seven years ago, the mortality rate for children under five years old was at an average of 540 a month. "It has now reached 5,600 and is still growing", accor- ding to the Minister.

Among those over five years old and adults, the rate of death from illness had climbed from 1,800 a month to over 8,000. Infant mortality was up from 24 for every 1,000 live birth to 168.

Iraq's hospitals reported shortages of medicines for patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma and epilepsy. Patients with cancer are being given half dosages of drugs. Intravenous drugs and fluids are specially scarce and antibiotics are being given in half measures.

Due to lack of medicines and hospital equipment, deaths from diseases among children under five had soared from 7,110 in 1989, before the war and the subsequent imposition of sanctions by the UN Security Council to 49,762 in 1993. An additional 38,844 deaths were caused in the same category between January and September of 1994.

Iraq, which used to be wealthy oil-rich country, invested in the 1970s and 1980 in infrastructure development in health, water and sewage services.

Until August 1990, Iraq was a major producer of oil, exporting about 2.5 million barrels a day generating $52 million per day. Health ranked among top three allocations, increasing substantially in the last two decades from $43 million in 1970 to cover $500 million in 1990. But damage caused by the bombing of water, sewage, electrical and other infrastructure facilities by the US in the 1991 war dealt a heavy blow to this proud record.

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