Child death rate is soar­ing in Iraq amid a lack of money and drugs

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By James Palmer

BAGH­DAD — Hanna Yousef Tamer watches hope­lessly as her 1year-old daugh­ter, Mahdi, writhes on the pink sheets inside a crowded ward of the Ibn Al-Bal­adi Pe­di­atric Hospi­tal in Bagh­dad’s Sadr City sec­tion.

The fee­ble child cries and looks around the bustling room through hol­lowed eyes, her body wasted from mal­nu­tri­tion and de­hy­dra­tion.

But with the hospi­tal lack­ing ba­sic med­i­ca­tions and in­tra­venous flu­ids to treat her, doc­tors and nurses can’t do much to help Mahdi. And while the pre­cious drugs are avail­able in phar­ma­cies out­side the hospi­tal, the lit­tle girl’s fam­ily can’t af­ford them.

This is familiar ter­ri­tory for Mrs. Tamer, who lost an­other daugh­ter, Ro­qia, when the 2-year-old died in 2005.

“Un­for­tu­nately, this is be­com­ing com­mon,” said Saad Mehdi, 35, a pe­di­a­tri­cian at Ibn Al-Bal­adi.

The rate of mor­tal­ity in Iraq among chil­dren younger than 5 shot up 150 per­cent be­tween 1990 and 2005, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased ear­lier this month by the U.S.-based hu­man­i­tar­ian aid group Save the Chil­dren.

“Con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mates place in­creases in in­fant mor­tal­ity fol­low­ing the 2003 in­va­sion at 37 per­cent,” the re­port said.

In its most star­tling terms, the group es­ti­mates one in eight Iraqis — 122,000 in 2005 alone — never make it to their 5th birth­day. Of th­ese, half died in the first month of life. Pneu­mo­nia and di­ar­rhea ac­counted for an­other 30 per­cent of child deaths.

“In Iraq, chil­dren are dy­ing from the eas­i­est cur­able dis­eases world­wide like di­ar­rhea and pneu­mo­nia, but with the de­te­ri­o­rated health sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try, the in­crease in the num­ber of mal­nour­ished chil­dren and thou­sands of dis­placed liv­ing in poverty con­di­tions, the pos­si­bil­ity of re­duc­ing this high fig­ure is re­mote,” Jaf­fer Ali, a se­nior of­fi­cial and pe­di­a­tri­cian in the Min­istry of Health, told the U.N. Of­fice for the Co­or­di­na­tion of Hu­man­i­tar­ian Af­fairs.

Iraq’s child-mor­tal­ity cri­sis is dis­tress­ingly vis­i­ble in Sadr City, a sprawl­ing and em­bat­tled Shi’ite slum of 2 mil­lion in east Bagh­dad, home to many of the coun­try’s poor­est peo­ple.

Pe­di­a­tri­cians at Ibn Al-Bal­adi said leak­ing sewage and the lack of potable wa­ter have con­trib­uted to a star­tling in­crease in wa­ter­borne dis­eases, such as ty­phoid, which can place chil­dren at risk for cir­cu­la­tory fail­ure, over­whelm­ing in­fec­tions and pos­si­bly death if not prop­erly treated.

Short­ages of med­i­ca­tions, equip­ment and doc­tors — more than half of whom have left the coun­try since the in­va­sion — have only made things worse.

At Ibn Al-Bal­adi, 34 pe­di­a­tri­cians must cope with hun­dreds of cases each day, of­ten with­out an­tibi­otics and in­tra­venous drips.

On a re­cent morn­ing, the cor­ri­dors of Ibn Al-Bal­adi were bustling with adults fran­ti­cally shut­tling chil­dren in their arms, while oth­ers lugged bags packed with blan­kets and clothes, and flagons filled with hot tea.

Along one hall­way, a group of women in black abayas sat on the floor feed­ing bot­tles to their in­fants.

The hospi­tal’s wards were crammed with chil­dren like 1year-old Ta­har Nahdi, who was suf­fer­ing from a se­vere chest in­fec­tion. The boy lay pale and un­con­scious on his back while his mother, Hassna Rhani, 35, swat­ted flies from his face.

Mrs. Rhani said that for the past five weeks, her fam­ily has been un­able to af­ford the $5 nec­es­sary to buy Ta­har four daily doses of an­tibi­otics that are avail­able in phar­ma­cies out­side the hospi­tal.

“The ma­jor­ity of the fam­i­lies that come here can’t af­ford the med­i­ca­tions,” a nurse said.

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