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Medical Thefts in Baghdad Well Organized, Says WHO - 2003-04-19

The World Health Organization says it believes the looting of medicines, equipment and hospital records from a Health Ministry warehouse and WHO offices in Baghdad was well organized.

WHO spokesman Iain Simpson says looters stole all the medicines and supplies stored in the Ministry of Health's main warehouse in Baghdad. He says the stocks were worth millions of dollars, and were badly needed across the country. Mr. Simpson says looters also destroyed the WHO office in Baghdad. "They turned up with a truck and with equipment, which enabled them to get into a safe," he said. "This clearly was not simply an outpouring of popular feeling. We have no idea who they were. And, they came with the intention of taking what they could see, and loading it up into a truck, getting into the safe, taking vehicles as well, which were parked in the WHO compound. This was more an organized looting than anything else."

Mr. Simpson says two large generators were the only items of real value left at the WHO office. He says they probably were left behind because they were too big for the looters to move. He says the generators will be taken to Yarmouk hospital, one of only four hospitals in Baghdad still functioning. Mr. Simpson says looters also took computers containing essential health data. "They took or destroyed a lot of information in the library, which was health information, vitally important for the Iraqi people, particularly at the moment," said Iain Simpson. "They also took or burned a lot of the records of the work that WHO had been doing, and of the relationship that WHO had with hospitals and health clinics across the country."

Mr. Simpson says the looted documents recorded disease patterns in various parts of the country, and noted the specific needs of hospitals and clinics. He says they also contained information on deliveries and use of vaccine drugs, and noted future requirements. The loss of these records, he says, will seriously set back efforts to rehabilitate Iraq's shattered health system.