[CASI Internet version prepared 2nd April 2001]
In July 1999, UNICEF published a major survey of child and maternal mortality in Iraq in 1999 (http://www.unicef.org/reseval/iraq.htm). The figures for Under-5 years Mortality Rate (U5MR), of 131 deaths per 1000 live births are the same as those in Haiti, one of the world's poorest countries, and over 20 times higher than here in the U.K. But Iraq, unlike Haiti, was a relatively rich country before the Gulf war in 1991. Its government set great store on healthcare and education of its children. Its U5MR had dropped steadily, from 127 in 1970 to 50 in 1990 in the South and Central regions, the majority of the country. If that trend had persisted, the U5MR would have been well under 20 by now. Half a million deaths of children under five would have been prevented. The Infant Mortality Rate (the under-1 year olds) has also more than doubled, from 47 deaths per 1000 live births in the period, 1984-1989, to 108 deaths in 1994-1999. These are not exaggerated claims. UNICEF's executive director, Carol Bellamy, stated that she was "happy with the quality of these surveys", praise indeed.
Why are these deaths occurring? Since sanctions were imposed, the excess deaths have been associated with diarrhoea, pneumonia and malnutrition, all largely preventable. Before the embargo, malnutrition was not a public health problem. Now it is. The reasons are obvious - economic collapse with plummeting salaries and soaring food prices, also lack of safe water or sanitation, upkeep of schools or provision of health care.
The International Child Health Group, (of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health), represents paediatricians and other professionals concerned with child health and welfare throughout the world. Drs Barbara Golden, Mazin Alfaham and Derek Robinson ask on behalf of this Group . "Can we continue to stand by and only count the untimely and unnecessary deaths?" The children can do nothing about their plight: they are powerless and so are their parents.
If we profess to be concerned with human rights, and as paediatricians, with children's rights in particular, surely we must speak up for the children of Iraq, loudly and persistently, until those who have the power to change things for the better, do so. They must put the "children first."
Dr Barbara Golden, Senior Lecturer in Child health
Dr Mazin Alfaham, Consultant Paediatrician
Dr Derek Robinson, Retired Consultant Paediatrician
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