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Health System in Iraq Near Total Collapse, says WHO - 2003-05-20


The World Health Organization, WHO, says the health system in war-torn Iraq is near total collapse, resulting in a greater risk of disease and an increase in chronic illnesses. The U.N. health agency said it needs between $20 million and $30 million a month to get Iraq's hospitals to function properly.

The World Health Organization said Iraq suffers from frequent power cuts, which stop pumping stations from providing clean water. Meanwhile, sewage leaks into the water system, are causing contamination, which increases the risk of disease.

In addition, the WHO said Iraq's hospitals have been looted of essential supplies, and few doctors and nurses are going to work because they are not being paid.

A WHO executive director, David Nabarro, said the nation's health system is functioning at only about 20 percent of its capacity. "The current situation is extreme because there is a breakdown of the system that kept the country going in the recent past. And it is particularly pronounced in Iraq because the population has been so dependent on electricity, on water systems, on sewage, on health services, on food supply distribution before the war. And now those systems are not working, the population is particularly vulnerable," Dr. Nabarro said.

Dr. Nabarro adds that the continuing insecurity in the country is not altogether a direct result of the war, but has more to do with the power vacuum. But Dr. Nabarro said there are about 2,000 hospitals in Iraq and there are a fair number of patients in these hospitals with conditions and injuries related to the war.

"But the other particular problem in Iraq's hospitals, at the moment, is the number of patients who have conditions that we call chronic conditions. We reckon that five percent of Iraq's population suffered before the war from some kind of chronic condition, either high blood pressure and other heart conditions, or diabetes or cancers or mental conditions that require continued hospital attendance. For these people, the quality of care in the hospitals at present is not good," he said.

WHO's Dr. Nabarro said that at first the occupying powers were not aware of the gravity of the health situation in Iraq. But he said they now understand the extent of the population's dependence on basic services and realize they need to do something about it.

He said he is pleased that Washington and London have decided to give the U.N. a role in rebuilding Iraq's health system.

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