Iraqi Infants-Children Continue Dying At Awesome Rates
By Haitham Haddadin

SADDAM CITY, Iraq ( - "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 blood poisoning.
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 United Nations.
"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 of five.
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," Jamaily said.
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.

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