Medics beg for help as Iraqis die needlessly
Half of all deaths preventable, say country's medics
Reconstruction seen as disaster More than 2,000 doctors and
nurses are killed 18,000 more leave the nation. Even the most
basic treatments are lacking
By Jeremy Laurance
Independent" -- -- The disintegration of Iraq's
health service is leaving its civilians defenceless in the
continuing violence that is rocking the country, Iraqi doctors
As many as half of the civilian deaths, calculated at 655,000
since the 2003 invasion, might have been avoided if proper
medical care had been provided to the victims, they say.
In separate appeals, the doctors beg for help to stem the
soaring death rate and ease the suffering of injured families
and children. They say governments and the international medical
community are ignoring their plight.
In the first 14 months after the 2003 invasion almost $20bn
(?11bn) was spent on reconstruction by the British and American
funds, including hundreds of millions on rebuilding and
re-equipping the country's network of 180 hospitals and clinics.
But billions went missing because of a combination of criminal
activity, corruption, and incompetence, leaving Iraqis without
even the essentials for basic medical care.
The violence for which the Allied forces failed to plan has
meant a $200m reconstruction project for building 142 primary
care centres ran out of cash earlier this year with just 20 on
course to be completed, an outcome the World Health Organisation
described as "shocking".
In March, the campaign group Medact said 18,000 physicians had
left the country since 2003, an estimated 250 of those that
remained had been kidnapped and, in 2005 alone, 65 killed.
Medact also said "easily treatable conditions such as diarrhoea
and respiratory illness caused 70 per cent of all child deaths",
and that " of the 180 health clinics the US hoped to build by
the end of 2005, only four have been completed and none opened".
Writing in the British Medical Journal today, Dr Basssim Al
Sheibani and two colleagues from the Diwaniyah College of
Medicine in Iraq says that, as the violence escalates, "the
reality is we cannot provide any treatment for many of the
"Emergency departments are staffed by doctors who do not have
the proper experience or skills to manage emergency cases.
Medical staff ... admit that more than half of those killed
could have been saved if trained and experienced staff were
They say equipment, supplies and drugs are in many cases
unobtainable. " Many emergency departments are no more than
halls with beds, fluid suckers and oxygen bottles."
They add: "Our experience has taught us that poor emergency
medicine services are more disastrous than the disaster itself.
But despite the daily violence that is crushing Iraq, the
international medical community is doing little more than
The shortages were graphically highlighted in a Channel 4
Dispatches documentary made by GuardianFilms, and broadcast in
February. It revealed that children with diarrhoeal disease were
dying of dehydration because hospitals lacked the right sized
needles to inject them with fluids.
In Diwaniyah children's hospital, doctors were shown struggling
to give drugs by ventilation to a two-day old girl, Zehara, who
was born with underdeveloped lungs, because they had the wrong
sized plastic mask. Masks costs pennies but, like all other
equipment, are in short supply.
Zehara's father was dispatched on to the streets to try to buy
Vitamin K on the black market, urgently needed for an injection.
But it was too late - by the time he returned, she was dead and
her twin brother also passed away shortly afterwards.
In a separate report yesterday, Peter Kandela, an Iraqi doctor
who has practised as a GP in Surrey for 30 years, travelled
through Jordan and Syria interviewing Iraqi medical staff who
had escaped the violence.
"The current Iraqi brain drain is the worst the country has seen
in its modern history," he writes
"In the new Iraq there is a price tag linked to your position
and status. Those doctors who have stayed in the country know
what they are worth in kidnapping terms and ensure their
relatives have easy access to the necessary funds to secure
their speedy release if they are taken."
He describes a kidney surgeon seized by a group of armed men,
despite the presence of security guards who he had hired to
protect himself, whose first act was to go through his contacts
book for other potential victims. " They had the audacity to
suggest that in return for receiving better treatment inn
captivity I should recommend others for kidnapping", the surgeon
He was released unharmed after a ransom of $250,000 was paid by
In Baghdad where no one can escape violence, hospitals provided
the last refuge. But they are now unsafe and Iraqis are avoiding
them. Public hospitals in the city are controlled by Shiia - who
have come under suspicion for allowing death squads to enter
them to kill Sunnis.
Abu Nasr, the cousin of a man injured in a car bomb who was
dragged from his hospital bed and riddled with bullets, told the
Washington Post: "We would prefer now to die instead of going to
the hospitals. I will never go back to one, never. The hospitals
have become killing fields."
34,000 The number of Iraqi physicians registered before the 2003
18,000 The estimated number of Iraqi physicians who have left
since the 2003 invasion.
2,000 The estimated number of Iraqi physicians murdered since
250 The number of Iraqi physicians kidnapped.
34 The number of reconstructive surgeons in Iraq before the 2003
20 The number who have either been murdered of fled. 72 per cent
of Iraqis needing reconstructive surgery are suffering from
gunshot or blast wounds.
164 The number of nurses murdered - 77 wounded.
$243,000,000 The amount of money set aside by US administration
to build 142 private health clinics in post-invastion Iraq.
20 The number of such clinics built by April 2006.
$0 The amount of money left over.
$1bn The amount of money the US administration has spent on
Iraq's healthcare system.
$8bn The amount of money needed over the next 4 years to fund
the health care system
70 the percentage of deaths among children caused by "easily
treatable conditions" such as diarrhoea and respiratory
270,000 The number of children born after 2003 who have had no
68 per cent of Iraqis with no access to safe drinking water.
19 per cent of Iraqis with sewerage access.
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited
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