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Iraqi children are suffering

by MARK MacKINNON Sunday, Jun. 29, 2003 at 8:10 PM

Doctors here agree. In interviews this week, three of Iraq's top pediatricians said that although no statistics are available, they believe the rate of child mortality — among the highest in the world during the past 12 years — has risen even higher since Saddam Hussein's regime fell and the United States took over governing the country.


Iraqi children are suffering

By MARK MacKINNON
From Saturday's Globe and Mail


UPDATED AT 2:09 AM EDT Saturday, Jun. 28, 2003


  Advertisement


Baghdad — Three-year-old Ibrahim Issam is clearly in pain. Clad in an orange jumpsuit, sitting on his father's knee in the Central Teaching Hospital's waiting room, he screams incessantly, unable to express where it hurts. In the already sweltering June heat, his forehead is even hotter to the touch.

His parents think he's got gastroenteritis, a stomach disease that dehydrates children rapidly and that has plagued this country since the United Nations imposed sanctions here 12 years ago, a trading embargo that left Iraq without chlorine to treat its water. His sister Aisha, just 18 months old, dozes on the hospital bed behind Ibrahim. She has the same symptoms.

The sanctions are gone now, but children like Ibrahim and Aisha still suffer. The situation, many say, is worse now. Even in big cities like Baghdad, the water remains undrinkable, and in the summer heat, many families have taken to drawing water directly from the polluted Tigris River.

"They have problems in their stomachs, diarrhea and vomiting. They're sick because the drinking water is dirty," the children's father, Issam Khalil, says. "Things are not better now than during the sanctions."

Doctors here agree. In interviews this week, three of Iraq's top pediatricians said that although no statistics are available, they believe the rate of child mortality — among the highest in the world during the past 12 years — has risen even higher since Saddam Hussein's regime fell and the United States took over governing the country.

With the medical system depleted by postwar looting and the slow restoration of basic services, the doctors feel underequipped to deal with what they expect will be a growing flood of cases like Ibrahim's and Aisha's. And in the early summer heat, which often peaks above 45 in the afternoon, infections are spreading like fire.

"There's no government since the end of the war, and the crisis is getting worse and worse," said Emad al-Hadithy, chief resident at the Central Teaching Hospital. "When we compare this period with the period of the embargo, the embargo was better."

Dr. al-Hadithy said that since the war in Iraq ended two months ago, he has seen a sharp rise not only in cases of gastroenteritis but in the so-called black fever, a disease spread by the sand flies which have been multiplying in Baghdad as piles of uncollected litter grow on the streets of the capital.

He also fears another rise in childhood leukemia, like the one after the Persian Gulf war in 1991, which many doctors here believe was caused by the depleted-uranium shells that U.S. forces used.

Before the latest war, the children's health crisis in Iraq was already staggering. A pair of Canadian doctors, Eric Hoskins and Samantha Nutt, who visited the country in January, estimated that 500,000 of Iraq's 13 million children were malnourished.

The United Nations Children's Fund says 70 per cent of all deaths among Iraqi children are caused by diarrhea-related diseases, and says that rates of such illnesses are "much higher than this time last year."

A recent Unicef survey in Baghdad found 7.7 per cent of children under the age of 5 were suffering acute malnutrition, up from 4 per cent before the war.

Complicating matters is the unpredictable security situation in Baghdad and other cities. Many parents, especially those who live in rural areas, are afraid to drive the sometimes dangerous roads into larger cities for hospital care.

"They come here only when the baby reaches the final stage of advanced gastroenteritis," Dr. al-Hadithy said.

Ibrahim and Aisha's parents hope they haven't waited too long. Mr. Khalil said they watched Ibrahim suffer for two days, afraid to go to the hospital, hoping he'd get better, before finally making the drive into Baghdad.

The hospitals that parents are travelling to are not sure they can cope. Though international aid organizations have been pitching in to help since the war ended, there's little that can be done until the overall situation in the county improves.

"Medicine is coming in now, but we don't have good security; we don't have electricity; we don't have a clean water supply," said Nazar al-Anbalai, director of the al-Mansur children's hospital, who said his doctors often have to work by candlelight and consciously skimp on the amount of water they use.

"If this doesn't change soon, there will be even more of an increase in the number of children's deaths."

In the hallways of his hospital, parents watching over their sick children are despondent.

"He's not eating anything," whimpered Bayan Jihad Abdul Razak, hugging her pallid-looking son, Mustafa, against her as they took a walk through the al-Mansur's crowded hallways. Though the boy is 20 months old, he looks much smaller. He's suffering from gastroenteritis as well as anemia.

"The situation here is not good. He's always sick, since he was born," Ms. Abdul Razak said. "He doesn't eat anything. I wish I could send him out of Iraq."


© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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LATEST COMMENTS ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 52 posted about this article.
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TITLE AUTHOR DATE
Suffer The Little Children Diogenes Sunday, Jun. 29, 2003 at 8:12 PM
Photo's Postman Sunday, Jun. 29, 2003 at 11:44 PM
Liberation? Aramis Monday, Jun. 30, 2003 at 3:22 PM
Rigtio Scottie Tuesday, Jul. 01, 2003 at 11:46 AM
Scottie George W. Bush Wednesday, Jul. 02, 2003 at 7:22 AM
Anti-bush boy Scottie Thursday, Jul. 03, 2003 at 6:17 PM
you are right human Thursday, Jul. 03, 2003 at 6:25 PM
God Bless George W. Bush Scottie Friday, Jul. 04, 2003 at 7:04 AM
(wheeze!) cough cough (gasp!) Scottie Friday, Jul. 04, 2003 at 7:07 AM
The New X The New X Friday, Jul. 04, 2003 at 7:56 AM
Scootie as usual blathers on in... Diogenes Friday, Jul. 04, 2003 at 8:26 AM
Diogenes anti-moron Friday, Jul. 04, 2003 at 8:28 AM
Metal poisoning Scottie Friday, Jul. 04, 2003 at 12:33 PM
Scottie Scott Friday, Jul. 04, 2003 at 3:16 PM
Scott Scottie Friday, Jul. 04, 2003 at 7:59 PM
Must be the DU Eddie Saturday, Jul. 05, 2003 at 2:43 PM
Dear Eddie Sheepdog Saturday, Jul. 05, 2003 at 3:19 PM
It's not that simple, Sheepdog Eddie Saturday, Jul. 05, 2003 at 3:29 PM
Death to all you Commie homos Inspired Saturday, Jul. 05, 2003 at 4:08 PM
No it's not simple Sheepdog Saturday, Jul. 05, 2003 at 4:11 PM
Blabber Eddie Saturday, Jul. 05, 2003 at 4:25 PM
Tidbits Eddie Saturday, Jul. 05, 2003 at 8:02 PM
scottie toonpi Sunday, Jul. 06, 2003 at 1:00 AM
toonpi Scottie Sunday, Jul. 06, 2003 at 6:47 AM
UNESCO DID PUBLISH... Diogenes Sunday, Jul. 06, 2003 at 8:09 AM
nowhere in recorded history Sheepdog Sunday, Jul. 06, 2003 at 8:24 AM
Yes, but Eddie Sunday, Jul. 06, 2003 at 8:39 AM
well Eddie... Sheepdoog Sunday, Jul. 06, 2003 at 9:02 AM
Yes, but Eddie Sunday, Jul. 06, 2003 at 9:10 AM
thanks but no thanks, fake Eddie Sheepdog Sunday, Jul. 06, 2003 at 9:20 AM
Sheepdog Eddie Sunday, Jul. 06, 2003 at 11:37 AM
Small mind Eddie Sunday, Jul. 06, 2003 at 12:07 PM
Oh well....... Eddie Sunday, Jul. 06, 2003 at 12:16 PM
DU in your face DU in your face Sunday, Jul. 06, 2003 at 11:20 PM
I am so tired of misinformed people who Parrot... Diogenes Monday, Jul. 07, 2003 at 5:47 AM
Addendum Diogenes Monday, Jul. 07, 2003 at 11:02 AM
No worries Eddie Monday, Jul. 07, 2003 at 11:13 AM
Well, Eddie Sheepdog Monday, Jul. 07, 2003 at 11:26 AM
Every hear of Sand Storms in the Desert... Diogenes Monday, Jul. 07, 2003 at 11:31 AM
No more worries Eddie Monday, Jul. 07, 2003 at 11:35 AM
The nurses let Diogenes use the computer again Eddie Monday, Jul. 07, 2003 at 11:40 AM
Diogenes, this guy is certified Sheepdog Monday, Jul. 07, 2003 at 11:40 AM
Sorry Sheepdog Eddie Monday, Jul. 07, 2003 at 1:41 PM
OK, OK, you've shamed me into it... Diogenes Monday, Jul. 07, 2003 at 1:48 PM
Well, here's my particular point... Sheepdog Monday, Jul. 07, 2003 at 9:51 PM
That didn't sound right Eddie Monday, Jul. 07, 2003 at 10:11 PM
DU up your commie ass DU up your commie ass Tuesday, Jul. 08, 2003 at 1:17 AM
Eddie Sheepdog Tuesday, Jul. 08, 2003 at 4:28 AM
To the Moron above Sheepdog's last: Diogenes Tuesday, Jul. 08, 2003 at 5:37 AM
Iraqi children are suffering Walter Conkrite Tuesday, Jul. 08, 2003 at 6:19 AM

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