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Re: Mortality estimates in Iraq

Dear CASI friends,

I refer to the postings of Per Klevnäs (24 February) and Milan Rai (25 February)

Ever since 1991 there has been so much discussion and talk in political circles about the mortality figures in Iraq and insufficient about morality.

I fully agree with Milan Rai: "....the whole point of our activities is to prevent future suffering..."

The exact figures don't matter - it is the children themselves.

For me it is more likely a higher figure than lower. Many deaths of children from poor families in remote villages would never have been registered.

I think we all agree it is time for the supporters of economic sanctions to admit that the discussion should be  about morality, not mortality statistics. It would be immoral for them to continue to measure the retention of economic sanctions and lack of health infrastructure reconstruction against an "acceptable mortality rate". No preventable child's death can be accepted.

Sadly I am reminded of the comment, by Cardinal Richelieu, I think, something like "governments adhere to policies, not principles".

Below a few lines out of my book 'Between Despair and Hope':

Quote: I do not need photographs. Until the day I die I will remember the children I met in these hospitals, children suffering from cancer, severe malnutrition or other serious illnesses, children who had one, maybe two days of life left. I encountered too many tragic scenes. Constantly, I dealt with work that provided more frustration than satisfaction. I swung more between despair and horror than between despair and hope. Where was the hope?

One father brought his son all the way from Basra to the Baghdad University Paediatric Hospital. He came full of hope that he would find medicine for his son and must have struggled to put the money together for a 650-kilometre trip. The boy had cancer. The hospital director did not have the heart to tell the father that the medicine was unavailable. In the father's presence, he phoned the pharmacist to see if there was any still in stock. After receiving a negative reply he phoned three other hospitals. The answer, of course, was always no. Then, the father understood. Maku. It was painful to feel and imagine his despair.

One doctor told me that he believed in God but was having a hard time right now understanding the world. In the paediatric ward, around the corner from his office, a child was suffering from leukaemia and there was no medicine left nor could he get any. The hopelessness one felt cut deep into one's heart, especially the realization of the horrible truth that those children are the ones who are 'paying' the price for the sanctions.

Outside Mansour Teaching Hospital in Medical City, a mother sat on the pavement crying. She was waiting for someone in her family to pick her up; beside her was a small figure wrapped in a sheet - another child who had not made it. This picture repeated itself far too often as I travelled from hospital to hospital.

Around a bed of a severely malnourished five-year-old girl stood some very young nurses, tears streaming down their faces. They could not believe what they saw. The girl looked like a little old lady and was so very thin with gross muscle wasting - a textbook picture of marasmus, but sadly reality. We talked to the mother and found out that she was a widow like many others, had lost her husband during the Iraq-Iran War. I thanked the nurses for all they were doing and wished them strength in this difficult time. A few days later the bed was empty - the child had died.

Young undernourished mothers, with their eyes full of sadness yet hope, held their first born children lovingly in their arms - tiny bundles of human beings with little chance of surviving. Premature births increased drastically, as did the births of full-term underweight babies, also an aftermath of the war. Unquote

Margarita Skinner


(UNICEF Health Coordinator Baghdad, 1991/1992)

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