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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: Shortages in Basra's hospitals

BASRA, 3 December 2003 (IRIN) - "Your brother’s case is very bad," Dr Jawad al-Ali, a consultant physician of the cancer treatment centre at the Teaching Hospital, the largest of five hospitals in Basra, said to a young man. The doctor went on to say that efforts to treat the brother's leukaemia would continue, but did not hold out much hope for patient's survival.

The young man said he was ready to donate blood or anything else to his brother, but the doctor explained that what the patient needed was a bone marrow transplant, an operation that could easily be performed if the hospital had the means, which it did not.

"There is a shortage of equipment in the radio- and chemotherapy departments in Basra, and almost 60 percent of our needs for treating patients do not exist," al-Ali told IRIN. He added that the Nuclear Medicine Hospital, where such operations used to be performed, was in desperate need of rehabilitation as it had been looted and largely destroyed. It would cost around 1 billion Iraqi dinars (US $500,000) to rehabilitate it.

Najah Naji, a nurse at the cancer centre, said that due to a lack of beds, some patients were having to be turned away. "We even use the sofas that guests stay on as beds to cover the shortage," she told IRIN, drawing attention to a girl lying on a sofa, who had been admitted in early November due to kidney problems, noting that she was having to share a ward with cancer patients.

Riyad Fakhr al-Din, the head of the hospital's laboratories, said that although some medicines had reached the hospital from the UK via the Coalition authorities, the quantity had been insufficient. "In many cases, we could never write full prescriptions for the patients, and they have to wait a few months to get all the medicine they need," he told IRIN.

Al-Ali said deaths in his department had risen to 10 a week, compared to an average of two before sanctions were imposed in 1991. "There could be a gradual improvement, but we still don’t feel it," he added.

Nizar Mahfuz of the surgical department spoke of a great shortage of endoscopes, anaesthetics and radiology equipment. "We have no alternatives when one [item] is out of order, and we have no spare parts," he told IRIN. He noted that his department had been using the same equipment since the 1970s. The hospital had received anesthetics and patients’ monitoring equipment five years ago as part of the Oil-for-Food programme, but nothing since then.

Whereas some medicines had come flooding in immediately after the end of the recent war, many doctors regard the state of the country's hospitals as little better than during the years of sanctions, if not worse. "Some of the tests, like those for typhoid, are not carried out any more, because they are too expensive for the patients," said Fakhr al-Din, noting that during the sanctions period, the tests had been subsidised.

Haytham Isa, the head of the Basra branch of the Red Crescent Society, told IRIN that the society had received aid only from Arab countries and that the last shipment it had received had been three and a half months ago. "We never received aid from foreign medical organisations, even after the [International Committee of the] Red Cross left," he noted.

In central Basra, a pharmacist at the Shatt al-Arab pharmacy said that with winter approaching there was a noticeable shortage of medicine for influenza and coughs for both adults and children. No pharmacies in Basra are open at night for emergencies.

He went on to explain that although chemist shops received medicines from Baghdad's main stores, "we always have a shortage of antibiotics, and I have had patients several times who were desperate for drugs for diabetes. On some occasions we have also received drugs which have expired."

Meanwhile, staff at the Czech Field Hospital in Basra, the only humanitarian hospital working in the city since last May, delivered nine containers of medical supplies to the director of one of Basra's hospitals earlier in the year.

"Our hospital took care of more than 3,000 outpatients since we started work on 1 May 2002," Cdr Vojtech Humlicek of the Czech hospital told IRIN. He stressed the need for medical equipment in hospitals. "It's more personnel and equipment that are needed in Basra's hospitals," he said.

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Human Rights

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This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2003



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