The Destruction of Iraq's Health Care

Ghali Hassan—11/2004
The health of the Iraqi people, especially the children, continues to alarmingly deteriorate as the US-UK invasion force has deliberately targeted hospitals, water purification plants, electricity generators and sewage systems so that they can not only "shock and awe" the Iraqi people into submission, but procure lucrative reconstruction projects for US firms.

SINCE THE US military invasion and occupation of Iraq, Iraq's health care system has deteriorated as a result of deliberate destruction by the US administration. The most vulnerable victims of this destruction are the Iraqi children, particularly children under the age of five.

A new study, to be release soon, revealed that acute malnutrition among Iraqi children between the ages of six months and 5 years has increased from 4% before the invasion to 7.7% since the US invasion of Iraq. In other words, despite the 13-years long genocidal sanctions, Iraqi children were living much better (by 3.7%) under the regime of Saddam Hussein than under the tyranny of George Bush. The reality: the world would be better off without George Bush.

The study, which was conducted by the Norway-based Institute of Applied International Studies, or Fafo, in cooperation with the Iraq's Central Office for Statistics and Information Technology, Iraq's Health Ministry, and the UN Development Program (UNDP), shows that about 400,000 Iraqi children are suffering from 'wasting' and 'emaciation' — conditions of chronic diarrhoea and protein deficiency.

A recent UNICEF report shows that, "[b]efore 1990 and the imposition of sanctions, Iraq had one of the highest standards of living in the Middle East". Now UNICEF reports, "at least 200 children are dying every day. They are dying from malnutrition, a lack of clean water and a lack of medical equipment and drugs to cure easily treatable diseases". The UNICEF report shows that, child mortality was not getting any better since the conflict started in 2003 and that the death rate among children was rising.

UNICEF estimates that there are about 6,880 deaths of children under the age of five every year in Iraq, with an under-fives mortality rate of 125 per 1,000 live births. Furthermore, the mortality rate of Iraqi women during pregnancy and childbirth has reached three times the rate reported during the period between 1989 and 2002, a study by the United Nations Population Fund reported.

A medical delegation from the American Friends Service Committee found that years of sanctions "have had their severest impact on families and children there, producing a generation of young people weakened by disease, isolated from the outside world and left to feed on feelings of bitterness and injustice". In its report, the delegation noted that, "the consequences of the sanctions fall most heavily on children. While adults can endure long periods of hardship and privation, children's physiological immaturity and vulnerability provide them with less resistance. They are put at greater risk and are less likely to survive persistent shortages" of food and health care.

An earlier report by the UN stated that before the first US war, "Iraq had an extensive national health care network. Primary care services were available to 97% of the urban population and 71% of the rural population". Every Iraqi citizen had the right to free health care provided by the government. In 1991, Iraq had 1,800 primary health centres, according to the UN children's agency UNICEF. As a result of US war and sanctions, a decade later that number had fallen to 929, of which a third require serious rehabilitation, one of the most pressing needs to date.

The US-British sponsored sanctions and wars against the Iraqi people have killed more than 2 million Iraqi civilians, a third of them were children under the age of five. Iraq's health care and education systems were deliberately targeted for destruction.

Under the US-UN imposed genocidal sanctions, Iraq's public health care system has eroded at every level. Life-saving medical supplies such as chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics, vaccines etc., are either banned or delayed under the dual-use policy. Medical equipments that Iraq was allowed to import were either blocked from delivery by US-Britain or the shipments were almost invariably incomplete and of unusable quality.

Using the usual mask of the UN, "the US had prevented the normal importation of indispensable items of equipment for more than a decade" wrote Tom Nagy of George Washington University. In his research on the effect of sanctions on Iraq's water and the health care system, Nagy found that the US "intentionally destroying whatever had remained of Iraq's water system within six months by using sanctions to prevent the import of a mere handful of items of equipment and chemicals" that are vital for the treatment of water.

During the US assault on Fallujah, US forces cut off water and electricity to the city of 300,000 people. US air strikes have destroyed hospitals and medical centres. The US took over the Fallujah General Hospital and converted to a military hospital, thus denying the citizens of Fallujah any health care service. On 09 November 2004, US warplanes attacked the Nazzal Emergency Hospital in the centre of the city and completely destroyed it. Thirty-five patients were killed, including five children under the ages of 10 years. According to Amnesty International, "20 Iraqi medical staff [doctors and nurses] and dozens of other civilians were killed when a missile hit a Fallujah clinic on 09 November 2004". The air strike also destroyed the hospital medical supplies warehouse. The destruction of Fallujah is a crime against humanity.

As of today, the exact number of civilians killed by the US assault on Fallujah is not known. According to an official in the Allawi's puppet "government", "more than 2085" Iraqis have been killed. US forces used internationally banned weapons such as napalm, phosphorous weapons and jet fuel, which makes the human body melt, to attack the city in violation of international law.

The Iraqi Red Crescent Society was prevented by US forces from entering the city to provide supplies to the wounded civilians, and called the health conditions in and around Fallujah "catastrophic". Eyewitnesses say most of the victims are civilians, including, women, children, and unarmed men between the ages of 14-60 years old, who were prevented from leaving the city before the US onslaught. Furthermore, many children have died as a result of starvation, dehydration and outbreaks of diarrhoeal infections. UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said that the death of was "an unconscionable slaughter of innocents". "The killing of children is a crime and a moral outrage", Bellamy added.

The Fafo report paints a catastrophic picture of Iraq's health care under US Occupation. "It's in the level of some African countries", Jon Pedersen, deputy managing director of the Norway-based Institute told The Associated Press. "Of course, no child should be malnourished, but when we're getting to levels of 7 to 8 percent, it's a clear sign of concern", he added.

The report blames the US Occupation for the deteriorating conditions in Iraq. Unreliable supplies of electricity have made it hard to boil water for safe drinking. The destruction of Iraq's infrastructure, including the sewage and water systems has exacerbated the problem and led to increase in outbreaks of virulent diseases such as hepatitis. More that 20% of urban residents and 60% of rural Iraqis don't have access to clean water, as a result of the destruction of Iraq's infrastructure.

In order to sale Iraqi assets and resources, the US must render them useless first. The deliberate targeting of Iraq's health care system for destruction is part of the illegal armed conquest of Iraq. The objective is quite clear: the cheap sale of Iraqi assets and resources to US corporations.

The US is unable to provide all Iraqis with acceptable and equal health care. Health care in the US is worse than any of the developing countries, with appalling statistics. The US is one of the few countries in the world that do not provide universal health care for children and pregnant women. Infant mortality, low birth weight, and child deaths under five are ranked among the highest in the US as compared to Western industrial nations and Japan.

The best and lasting solution to the humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq is for the US to stop the violence against the Iraqi people, withdraw its forces from Iraq, and restoration of Iraq's sovereignty. The current interim US-appointed "government" is illegitimate. Iraq's sovereignty should be restored to ensure the peaceful rehabilitation of Iraq's infrastructure and health care system.