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[ This message has been sent to you via the CASI-analysis mailing list ] [ Presenting plain-text part of multi-format email ] Dear Casi List, Here's poignant counterpoint to Mark Parkinson's posting of the Reuter's report on the assertion by the U.S. Health Secretary that medicine in Iraq is improving: http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A31728-2004Mar4?language=printe r. washingtonpost.com Iraqi Hospitals on Life Support Babies Dying Because of Shortages of Medicine, Supplies By Ariana Eunjung Cha Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, March 5, 2004; Page A01 BAGHDAD -- The stout woman, covered from head to toe in a black abaya, shuffled into the crowded hospital. She went straight to the emergency room and opened her robe to reveal a tiny baby wrapped in fuzzy blankets. The boy had been born prematurely, and the family was afraid he was going to die. Uday Abdul Ridha took a quick look and shook his head. The physician put his hands on the woman's shoulders in sympathy, but his words were blunt. "I'm sorry," he said. "We cannot help you. We don't have an incubator, and even if we did, we are short on oxygen. Please try another hospital." Scenes like this one at the Pediatric Teaching Hospital in Baghdad's Iskan neighborhood have become common in Iraq in recent months, as the health-care system has been hit by a critical shortage in basic medications and equipment. Babies die of simple infections because they can't get the proper antibiotics. Surgeries are delayed because there is no oxygen. And patients in critical condition are turned away because there isn't enough equipment. "We are dealing with a crisis," said Abdulwadood Talibi, director general of the State Company for Drugs and Medical Supplies, which is in charge of ordering all goods for the 240 public hospitals and 1,200 health centers in Iraq. There are shortages in basic items like as cough syrup and also in critical items such as diabetes medications, anti-cancer drugs, intravenous lines, tuberculosis test kits and ventilators, say doctors and nurses at Iskan, the Medical City Center, Yarmouk Hospital and other facilities. The U.S.-led occupation is preparing to hand over administration of the health-care sector to the Iraqi government, perhaps in a few weeks. The Health Ministry will be among the first to have operational independence. Health Minister Khudair Fadhil Abbas said about 90 percent of the hospitals and clinics have been brought back to the same poor conditions as before the war but that the others will take more time to reach even that low level. Occupation officials say they have made many improvements in the health sector since the end of the war, and that much of the work is not obvious because it involves training nurses and doctors and changing inefficient practices. The U.S. Agency for International Development has financed vaccines for 4.2 million children and is beginning to distribute supply kits to 600 clinics. The Iraqi government and the U.S. military have financed reconstruction of nearly 40 hospitals and improvements to 130 more are in the works.. Jim Haveman, the Coalition Provisional Authority's senior adviser for health, said he had heard "community concerns" about medical supplies and that the occupation authority and the Health Ministry have dispatched quick-assessment teams to identify and fill shortages. Among items being sought: incubators. Iraq's hospitals were once the envy of the Middle East. Wealthy businessmen used to fly their relatives in for everything from heart transplants to plastic surgery, and Iraqi specialists traveled the world lecturing about their research. But medical care deteriorated under the economic sanctions imposed after the Persian Gulf War in 1991, and President Saddam Hussein banned the importation of medications produced by U.S. companies and their affiliates, even though those were often the best available. Doctors, nurses and Iraqi officials said some things have improved since the war -- especially the infrastructure of some hospitals and clinics that have been rebuilt. But in other respects, conditions are worse. Damaged records, attacks on convoys carrying supplies, looting at central warehouses, inoperable factories and bureaucratic confusion have delayed repairs and the restocking of medicine and equipment. Some Iraqis also say the U.S.-led occupation authority's overhaul of the system for ordering and distributing supplies might have been too ambitious for a country reeling from war. The Health Ministry developed a new list of standard drugs to replace medication that is outdated, but wrangling over the list put large purchases on hold. The ministry also decided that all shipments of humanitarian aid should go through a central depot and not directly to hospitals, so the government could ensure that medicine and equipment were distributed fairly. But that extra layer of bureaucracy delayed getting the supplies to the hospitals. Some medical centers, such as the Iskan hospital, have had to bear the burden of treating patients from other facilities that were damaged and had to be shut for repairs. The Iskan hospital was built for 170 patients, but it has been treating more than 300. Two or sometimes three children have been crammed into single beds. Sewage leaks onto the floors of the rooms where doctors perform surgery. And the lines to get prescriptions filled stretch outside the doors. Flies hover around beds that smell of wet bandages. And it is not uncommon for blood and other spillage to remain on the floors for hours because antiseptic cleaning supplies are not available. Abbas, the health minister, said the Spanish government had pledged $10.5 million to help rehabilitate and restock the hospital. Contractors have arrived in recent days to assess what needs to be done. The situation is so precarious that twice in the past few months the fathers of babies that died stormed the hospital and attacked doctors, said Saddam Hussein Ali, 31, a security guard there. Several witnesses recalled an incident in which a distraught father shouted, "You are bastards all" at Walid Khalid, the doctor on duty at the time. The doctor who had treated the man's baby had already left the hospital for the day, so the father grabbed Khalid by the collar and shook him. After the war, the children's hospital and others were overrun with people who said they wanted to help. But the only follow-ups, according to nurses and doctors, were visits from UNICEF and the U.S. Army. The occupation authority said it has also visited the hospital to study its needs. The visitors brought gifts for the children during the holidays. There were new clothes, candy and milk, but that only made some parents more bitter, said Hadeel Jameel, a doctor's assistant in the cancer ward. "When organizations come and play with the children and take photos, the mothers will cry because they think it means that this is all they can do and their children will die," she said. The shortages have angered many in the medical community. "The most important thing for Americans is their interest: the Ministry of Oil. That is where all the money is going. They don't give medical supplies or oxygen any thought," said Bahaa Abdul Munem, who until recently was chief resident at Iskan children's hospital but transferred to Yarmouk. Before Nov. 21, the United Nations, which managed Iraq's oil-for-food program, had responsibility for ordering medicine and equipment. In conjunction with the Health Ministry, it shipped in 25,000 tons of supplies. But because many records were destroyed and there wasn't time for a proper survey, the supplies ordered weren't necessarily the ones most needed.. Talibi, director general of the State Company for Drugs and Medical Supplies, said he believes U.N. officials tried their best but that they did not have enough information. "It's like you are visiting your neighbors and want to help. You go to their kitchen, but you don't know where the cups and the tea are," he said. Abbas acknowledged that the Health Ministry should bear some of the responsibility. "Our staff should have done something earlier, before the supplies were depleted," he said. On the third floor of the children's hospital, Habeeba Kadhim, a nurse who works in the infectious diseases ward, said at one point there was only penicillin to treat patients with diarrhea, and it didn't work, so babies got progressively sicker and died. On the second floor, where cancer patients are, doctor's assistant Hadeel Jameel said people only receive part of their leukemia medications because there isn't enough for everyone to receive full doses. But the biggest problem is in the neonatal ward. Iraq has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world -- one that climbed from 40 out of 1,000 live births in 1989 to 108 per 1,000 live births today. One of the main goals of the occupation authority and the Health Ministry is to cut that rate in half by 2005. They have allocated nearly $1 billion of the Health Ministry's budget for next year in addition to $793 million the U.S. Congress has appropriated and more funds from other countries. Abbas said the top priority for those funds will be maternal and child health. There are 30 old-fashioned incubators at the children's hospital, and all require the temperature to be adjusted manually. At any given time one or more are out of order. There are usually more than 40 children who need incubators, said Hayat Katia Sabeeh, a nurse in the ward. There also has been an oxygen shortage. The two plants in Iraq that produce the gas and liquid have not been keeping pace with demand. Twice, in November and in December, the children's hospital ran out of oxygen for about 10 hours. The babies in the neonatal ward went into cardiac arrest, said Munem, and some died as doctors and nurses scrambled to bundle them up and transport them to a nearby hospital. "When we face moments of deficiency, it makes us feel very sad because the difficulty is simply because we do not have a functioning machine -- not because we don't have the skill," said Ahmed A. Muhammad, assistant manager of the hospital who is in charge of supplies. On one weekday morning last month, Ibtisam Ali, 35, brought her brother's baby to Iskan. Her local hospital, where the baby was born that day, had turned her away because it did not have medicine to treat the baby. The boy looked blue and was bleeding from his nose and mouth. A doctor told her that the child needed an incubator but that none was available. Ali called a few hospitals and found that Medical City had a free incubator. She raced over in a taxi, but when she arrived, she was told the space had been given to another baby. Ali argued: "Why did I come here? . . . I spent all my money on taxis and reserved the place, and you say you are going to take [the incubator] away. I have the priority." The doctor replied: "This is not a hotel." A nurse, Faihaa Muhsin, tried to console Ali by telling her that even if they had an incubator, they didn't have a mechanical ventilator to keep the child breathing. "He is a hopeless case. It is up to God," Muhsin said. Sanaa Mehdi, 18, the mother's sister, was not ready to give up, so Muhsin handed her a manual ventilator and told her to squeeze and let go, squeeze and let go, as long as she could. Shortly before dawn, after standing by the baby and working the respirator for eight hours, Mehdi's arms gave out. Her nephew, Abdullah Hassan Ali, age 1 day, died at 4 a.m. The death certificate listed "respiratory failure" as the cause. Special correspondent Hoda Ahmed Lazim contributed to this report. C 2004 The Washington Post Company [ image001.gif of type image/gif removed by lists.casi.org.uk - attachments are not permitted on the CASI lists ] _______________________________________ Sent via the CASI-analysis mailing list To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-analysis All postings are archived on CASI's website at http://www.casi.org.uk