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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: Healthcare budget inadequate

BAGHDAD, 16 February 2004 (IRIN) - The US civil administrator in Iraq said at the Iraqi Medical Specialty Conference in Baghdad over the weekend that the US-led Coalition had failed to provide adequate funding for the rehabilitation of the country's health care system.

At the conference, doctors criticised the US-led Coalition for the slow pace of rehabilitation and discussed the years of international isolation under Saddam Hussein's regime and UN economic sanctions.

The Ministry of Health's 2004 budget from the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) for health care is US $950 million, according to a Coalition spokesperson in Baghdad. This is up from the more than $500 million allocated to healthcare since major conflict ended in Iraq on 1 May 2003.

But Bremer admitted that "it is not nearly enough to cover the needs" of the healthcare sector.

Saddam Hussein's regime provided $16 million for the Ministry of Health in 2002, a 90 percent reduction from a decade earlier, according to figures provided by the US-led coalition.

"The 2004 budget, while almost 6,000 percent more than that allocated under the former regime, only sustains current healthcare operations within Iraq," a Coalition spokesperson told IRIN.

Iraq's health infrastructure has now recovered to its pre-war level 11-months after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. The country's 240 public hospitals and 95 percent of the country's private clinics reopened.

Bremer defended the US-led Coalition's post war healthcare performance, saying that it and the Ministry of Health had supplied medicine to the country's hospitals and increased pharmaceutical distribution.

And he was adamant that pharmaceutical shortages were only "isolated cases". The US-led coalition and the Ministry of Health had procured and distributed more than 30 million doses of children's vaccinations, the US official pointed out. Since 24 May, the Ministry of Health has delivered more than 25,000 mt of pharmaceuticals and supplies to healthcare facilities across the country.

But doctors at the conference described Iraq's healthcare system as "appalling" after more than 13-years of UN economic embargo and discussed year's of 'technological stagnation and intellectual isolation 'imposed by the Saddam regime.

Following the 1991 Gulf War, economic sanctions placed against Iraq for its invasion of Kuwait also had a crippling effect on the country's medical system, which had made it difficult to rebuild the healthcare sector in the post-war environment.

"Taken in perspective, 10 months is a very short amount of time to repair the damage of three wars and 30 years of neglect, corruption and under investment in Iraq's healthcare infrastructure," the spokesperson said.

Since the end of the war, the Ministry of Health and the US-led coalition have emphasised the importance of decentralising healthcare and working with governorates and primary health centres.

The spokesperson explained that the goal was to create a modern healthcare system prioritising disease prevention and supervision at the clinic and governorate level.

The Ministry of Health had also focused on maternal and child health to reduce the infant mortality rate by one half by the end of 2005, the Coalition official explained. The infant mortality rate is 107 for every 1,000 live births and among children under the age of five is 133 in every 1,000 live births, according to The United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF).

Now, also greater efforts are underway to fund large projects, including the rehabilitation of primary health centres across the country. The budget has been submitted to the CPA Project Management Office for approval.

Overall, the Project Management Office has allocated $793 million for health care reconstruction, with $493 million for construction and another $300 million for non-construction items.

Bremer also said that there the US-led coalition was looking to attract further funds at a donors conference in Abu Dhabi next month. At a similar conference in October, 73 nations pledged $33 billion in reconstruction money.

Themes: (IRIN) Governance, (IRIN) Health & Nutrition, (IRIN) Human Rights



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