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Iraq's Hospitals on Verge of Collapse,


By Nando Media

A Time to Time Nando's in-depth look at the 20th century

Agence France-Press
January 23, 2000

Baghdad - Iraqi hospitals are close to collapse, a senior Red Cross official warned Sunday. A rehabilitation program is under way to try to stave off disaster. "The most important problem in our view in Iraq at the moment is the increasingly precarious situation of the public infrastructure," said Beat Schweizer, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation in Iraq. "We have noticed that particularly in the hospitals, the situation is such that these hospitals will take only a short time and these hospitals will not be functional anymore," he told AFP. "Under these circumstances of course you cannot provide medical care even if you have imported the equipment from abroad," the official said.

Iraq is allowed to import humanitarian aid, including medicines and medical supplies, under the U.N. oil-for-food program, which allows Baghdad to sell oil under U.N. supervision, despite sanctions in force since its 1990 conquest of Kuwait. In theory, the ceiling on those exports was removed under U.N. Resolution 1284, passed in December, though Baghdad has yet to accept the new sanctions and arms inspection regimes the measure sets up. But "even the new resolution and the new (phase of) the oil-for-food program does not address this issue," of the country's crumbling infrastructure, Schweizer said. He added that the Red Cross had "planned over the next years, I would say, to do the rehabilitation work of 11 hospitals," including ones in Basra, Baghdad and Mosul. But he warned that "the works we are doing will not bring back these hospitals to their previous standards ... Our work is to make sure that they remain functioning."

In August 1998, UNICEF published its first study on child health in Iraq since 1991, highlighting that infant mortality rates were lower in the Kurdish-held north of the country, which remains outside Baghdad's control. According to the figures, deaths among those under 5 in the government-controlled south and center have doubled under the U.N. sanctions from 56 per 1,000 before 1990, to 131 per 1,000 by 1999. The health ministry on Thursday said more than 14,000 Iraqis died because of U.N. sanctions in December 1999, bringing the total number of embargo deaths to 1.26 million since 1990. Of the 14,000 who died, nearly 6,500 were children under the age of 5. Most died as a result of chronic diarrhea, malnutrition and respiratory problems, the ministry said.

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