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Iraqi Medical Crisis Highlighted in International Red Cross Report


The International Committee of the Red Cross recently issued an alarming assessment of the medical conditions in Iraq. It described the situation as a crisis, with sick and injured Iraqis waiting for treatment in understaffed health care facilities. Others are too afraid to seek help because many doctors and hospitals have become targets of the insurgents. VOA's Melinda Smith has more on the Red Cross report.

Patients are lined up for medical care at a hospital in the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City. Once inside, they will likely experience more delays if they see a doctor at all.

According to the Red Cross report, conditions are getting worse.

The International Committee Of The Red Cross (ICRC) says civilian casualties from day to day violence put enormous pressure on the available medical resources in Iraq. There is a severe shortage of doctors and nurses and limited supplies of medicine.

Red Cross spokeswoman Nada Doumani says one reason the health system in Iraq is breaking down is because doctors and patients fear for their own safety.

"Some patients wouldn't dare to go there. The problem that we face today in Iraq is not simply a political or a military or a geo-strategic problem. It is mainly a humanitarian issue."

It has been hard to estimate the numbers of those who die before getting treatment, compared to those who are treated. But in 2006, the International Red Cross says it delivered medical supplies to treat at least 3,000 people with war-related wounds. The ICRC also reported that 67 primary health care centers across Iraq treated an average of 9,000 patients a day.

One major obstacle in treatment has been a shortage of medicine. Hospital pharmacist Ahmed Hameed says there just are not enough supplies to go around. "The terrorist acts and criminal explosions in markets and public places lead to so many injuries, a matter that will increase demand and put pressure on hospitals. And consequently, this will lead to sharp shortage[s] in medicine and medical appliances."

Yet some medical supplies are readily available on the streets of Baghdad for the right price and a willingness to overlook the source of their manufacture.

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