- SADDAM CITY, Iraq (www.nando.net) - "We had named her Zeinab,"
said the woman in a black chador, her eyes swelling with tears, at a rundown
hospital near Baghdad.
- Next to her lay the tiny whitish-blue
body of her two-day-old niece, who had passed away an hour earlier -- the
latest of many babies at the hospital to die of treatable diseases because
of acute shortages of medicine and equipment.
- Iraq, reeling under more than seven years
of punishing U.N. trade sanctions imposed after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait,
says the infant mortality rate has risen nearly 15-fold to 6,500 a month
since the embargo began in 1990 from 450 previously.
- Despite an improvement in the flow of
humanitarian aid since the start of 1998, much is still needed.
- American Christian missionaries delivering
relief supplies to Ibn al-Balady maternity and pediatric hospital on the
eastern edge of Baghdad, looked at the dead baby girl in shock.
- Next door, Zahra Mehdi, a premature baby
girl born two weeks ago, clings to life by a straw, weakly stretching her
fragile limbs in an incubator, one of four still functioning out of 24.
- Anxious relatives, mostly Shi'ite Moslem
women in long dresses and scarves, stood around in the dark dusty corridors,
a putrid odor filling the air.
- "I think she'll pass away soon ...
She's very weak and can only breathe artificially," hospital director
Dr. Ali al-Jamaily, who has seen countless similar cases, explained in
a matter-of-fact manner.
- "Many important antibiotics for
this age group, we don't have in our hospital. ... There is daily suffering
from this condition. If the medicine Claforan was available, surely she
would have been saved," he told Reuters.
- Like Zeinab, Zahra has septicemia, or
- The doctor quickly runs through the list
of common diseases: chest infections, hepatitis, malaria, leukemia, congenital
anomalies, typhoid, dysentery, jaundice and measles.
- The equipment the hospital lacks ranges
from simple sutures to blood filters, from bags to incubators, he says.
- The number of U.N.-approved missions
carrying humanitarian aid consisting of medicines, medical supplies, food
and other relief material has increased since January.
- Most flowed from Arab countries angered
that sanctions against Iraq were dragging on, including poor nations like
Yemen, Sudan and Djibouti -- testimony to the extent of the suffering.
Russia and China have also chipped in, the latter sending 10 tons of food
and medicine on Monday.
- The latest mission was a seven-member
delegation from the U.S.-based Church World Service (CWS) that delivered
on Thursday part of $100,000 worth of medicines and humanitarian supplies
to Ibn al-Balady -- antibiotics, analgesics and blankets.
- The group also handed out more than 15
tons of powdered baby milk to community centers in six governorates. The
remaining supplies will go to another hospital.
- "We have been profoundly shocked
by the level of suffering of the Iraqi people," said Reverend Dr.
Rodney Page, Executive Director of CWS, the relief agency of the National
Council of Churches representing 53 million U.S. Christians.
- "Malnutrition is widespread and
there is a shortage of even the most common medicines. As a result, thousands
of Iraqi children are dying needlessly because of easily treatable diseases,"
added Page, whose mission was approved by both the United States and the
- "The needs in Iraq, shattered by
the war and crippled by the sanctions, are still enormous. The medicine
we have brought is a start; but much more needs to be done to end the suffering
of the Iraqi people," he added.
- Under the "oil-for-food" deal
that Baghdad signed with the United Nations in December 1996, $200 million
is allocated in every six-month period for purchases of medicine and medical
supplies, which must all be approved by the U.N. sanctions committee.
- U.N. relief officials hope to raise this
to up to $800 million under an expanded deal that raises Iraqi oil sales
to $5.2 billion from the current $2 billion every six months. Iraq says
it cannot produce more than $4 billion because of technical problems and
low oil prices.
- "We receive materials and medicines,
but it is not enough and not continuous," said Jamaily, adding that
conditions are exacerbated by widespread malnutrition, which a recent UNICEF
survey estimated affected 24.7 percent of Iraqi children under the age
- Sometimes the deliveries arrive just
in time, said Page, whose CWS has sent Iraq nearly $3 million worth of
food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies since 1991.
- "We delivered some humanitarian
aid last Christmas and the doctors were actually in the surgical amphitheater
waiting for our arrival. They had 12 Caesarean operations and no sutures
and were waiting for us to begin the operations," Page said.
- The doctors at Ibn al-Balady admit they're
a little rusty, for lack of up-to-date medical journals and periodicals,
which the cash-strapped hospitals can't afford.
- "Now we don't know what's happening
in the world of medicine. There are no journals, no textbooks to see what
new happened in medicine ... We need to read about new treatments or diagnosis,"
- Once a fairly modern hospital, Ibn al-Balady,
which was built in 1971 and modernized in 1985, now looks trapped in a
time warp -- even the wall clocks have stopped.
- "They don't have spare parts. I
was here last year and they're still stopped," said Mel Lehman, spokesman
for the relief group.