Diseases Rampage Iraq
By Jeremy Laurance
13 October 2004
rates of disease and a crippled health system are posing a new crisis
for the people of Iraq, threatening to kill more than have died in the
aftermath of the war. Deadly infections including typhoid and tuberculosis
are rampaging through the country, according to the first official report
into the state of health in the country.
The alarming evidence
is the legacy of years of neglect, crippling sanctions and two bloody
conflicts. Iraq's network of hospitals and health centres, once admired
throughout the Middle East, has been severely damaged by war and looting,
leaving staff struggling to cope and adding to the crisis.
The report, compiled
by the Ministry of Health in Baghdad, provides the first detailed portrait
of the health of the Iraqi population and the state of its health services
since the 2003 war. It is being launched today by Dr Ala'din Alwan,
the Iraqi interim government's Minister of Health, at a conference of
international donors in Tokyo.
It charts the drastic
decline in the health of the population and the catastrophic deterioration
in health services during Saddam Hussein's era, one which has accelerated
since the war. One third of the health centres and one in eight of the
hospitals was looted of furniture, fridges and air conditioners or had
equipment destroyed in the immediate aftermath of the war.
Damage to water
supplies and sanitation has led to a surge in typhoid, with 5,460 cases
recorded in the first quarter of 2004. Almost one in five urban households
and three in five rural households do not have access to safe drinking
Poverty has risen
sharply, with an estimated 27 per cent of the population living on less
than $2 a day in 2003, in a nation with among the richest oil reserves
in the world.
One in three children
are chronically malnourished, putting their lives at serious risk from
outbreaks of measles, mumps and jaundice, which are sweeping the country
and infecting thousands. The report, compiled from Ministry of Health
data and international surveys, says mothers and children have been
hardest hit by a combination of domestic policies and international
sanctions stretching back over a decade. Infant and child mortality
doubled during the 1990s at a time when health was improving in most
Between 1990 and
1998, the number of infants dying before their first birthday rose from
40 to 103 for every 1,000 live births. Maternal mortality rose almost
threefold during the same period, with 279 deaths in childbirth for
every 100,000 live births.
Adult death rates
have risen and life expectancy has fallen to below 60 for men and women.
Overall, Iraq's state of health is now rated on a par with the impoverished
countries of the Sudan, Yemen and Afghanistan, where once it was ranked
alongside Jordan and Kuwait, the report says.
Dr Alwan said yesterday:
"More Iraqis may have died as a result of inappropriate health
policies, sanctions and neglect of the health sector over the past 15
years than from wars and violence. The main causes were poverty, poor
nutrition, the deterioration of water and sanitation services and the
collapse of health services ...Iraq used to have one of the best health
services in the region but Saddam did not consider it a priority.The
budget was cut by 90 per cent."
The report details
the extensive looting and destruction of health facilities since the
war, which combined with unreliable electricity and water supplies and
the continuing threat of violence have added to the problems.
Dr Alwan said Iraq
was now facing a "double burden of disease" from chronic conditions
such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, which were growing rapidly,
alongside a resurgence of infectious diseases.
Cancer has been
rising sharply for a decade, with most cases diagnosed only when advanced,
fewer than a quarter of diabetics receive insulin and there is a growing
problem of post- traumatic stress disorder, especially among children,
the report says.