Whenever someone hears about our kids or reads about our work they almost always arrive at the same question: “How did Iraq get this way?” “What caused this?” “Who’s to blame?”
Well, after 4 years of working throughout this country we believe we can provide you with a concise answer to that incredibly complex question. This isn’t about guilting anyone or pointing the finger (there’s already too much of that going around), but it is a hard look at the answer to your question.
Based on Iraq’s history, here are 5 ways to destroy a nation’s healthcare system:
1. Limit a country’s ability to operate politically and economically
In 1990 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 661, which imposed broad, restrictive regulations upon Iraq. In a nutshell, these regulations stipulated that no country in the UN could import or receive any goods from the country.
Unfortunately, the sanctions did more than impede the political and military action of the Iraqi aggressors. The Iraqi economy, that had been so dependent upon oil exports and foreign trade, crashed as a direct result of the Resolution 661.
In 1989 Iraq’s gross domestic profit was over $66 billion. Just seven years later it was estimated as being $10.8 billion. In 1989, annual income per household was $3,510, and by 1996 had fallen to less than $500. Before the sanctions, 93% of the population had ready access to healthcare institutions, which were staffed primarily by physicians who had been trained in Europe or the United States.
This economic collapse primed the country for the health crisis it is in today, a health crisis that has lead to the death of inestimable millions over the last two decades.
2. Slash governmental healthcare funding
In the 1990′s Saddam Hussein cut spending on healthcare by 90%. Continued education, supplies of necessary equipment, and valuable public health programs all suffered without adequate funding research.
Without funding and governmental support, the healthcare system deteriorated.
3. Reduce the number of medical professionals in the country
In some areas, insurgents made it a practice of targeting medical professionals. Although many doctors were not individually targeted, they were still in danger. Ambulances were frequently robbed of their medical supplies, and it was not uncommon for gunmen to enter hospitals and force doctors to care for their injured family members or comrades.
Another blow was dealt to the stability of Iraq’s healthcare when many doctors and nurses, who were lucky enough to escape death, fled the country in a mass exodus, further damaging the quality of the Iraqi healthcare system.
The murder and exodus of Iraqi healthcare professionals is tragic. It has left many families broken and many patients without the care that they need. But the negative effects extend beyond their families and the patients they left behind. Without their mentor-ship, expertise, and knowledge, generations of students from universities and teaching hospitals will continue to have insubstantial educations.
4. Destroy physical healthcare infrastructure
In 2003 American and Coalition forces destroyed two primary public health laboratories and an estimated 12% of hospitals. While speaking about the state of the nation’s healthcare infrastructure, former Minister of Health of Iraq, Khudair Abbas, explained that of the remaining primary care centers, “15% have been looted. Even though 80% remain intact, 40% need extensive repairs…13% do not have clean water and one third are staffed primarily by paramedics rather than physicians”.
During the Gulf War, American and coalition forces destroyed key elements of Iraq’s infrastructure. “Bridges, communications, electricity supplies, water and sewage systems, weapons factories, healthcare facilities, administrative centers, warehouses” and homes were destroyed. While this may have been a strategy aimed at ceasing Iraq’s ability to make war, this strategy did far more than defeat the Iraqi military.
5. Overburden the healthcare system by creating too many patients
The above contributing factors deal primarily with political, structural, organizational, or educational deficits. Ultimately, however, it is the population of patients that compose the largest component of any healthcare system. And, regrettably, there is a vast population of patients in Iraq.
The demolition of water and sewage treatment plants lead to outbreaks of typhoid and cholera. In 1989, there were no cases of cholera per 100,000 people; just 5 years later there were 1,344 cases per 100,000 people.
According to studies, by 1996 31% of children under five were chronically malnourished. Just a year later, there were a million children under the age of five who were malnourished, and a year after that 70% of women were suffering from anemia. Another study, consistent with the information on malnutrition, found widespread, chronic stunting in school children as an indication of long-term malnutrition.
Poverty’s wide-spread negatively affects the livelihood of the Iraqi people. Low socioeconomic status is associated with lower levels of education, poorer nutritional intake, and higher risk of congenital heart defects.
Research shows that poor diet contributes to far more negative effects than weight loss, anemia, nutritional deficiency, and compromised immune system. Without the funds to afford healthier food, mothers with higher intake of saturated fats and lower intake of nicotinamide (vitamin B3) have increased risk of giving birth to children with congenital heart defects. 5, 8 Furthermore, low dietary intake levels of folic acid (vitamin B9) around the time of conception have been linked to higher risk of neural tube disorders.
But nutrition and education are not the sole arbiters of death and ill health. Many parts of the country still suffer from the chemical and biological attacks perpetrated by Saddam Hussein. Not only are individuals suffering from primary exposure, but research supports that children of those who were exposed suffer secondary effects in the form of birth defects.
The list of health problems and their contributing factors continues ad nauseam, and the patient-load continues to overwhelm doctors.
The evidence shows that the state of Iraq’s healthcare system has been nearly two decades in the making. The downward spiral began with sanctions in the 1990’s by making the nation more susceptible to economic collapse. It continued with a multitude of factors including military action by the US and Coalition forces, violence wrought by religious extremists, and a vast backlog of patients.
The question remains, is it too late for Iraqis to rebuild their healthcare system?
Is Iraq too far gone?
Of course not! The restoration of Iraq’s medical infrastructure is happening now!
This November 5th will be our biggest surgical mission yet–lives will be saved, doctors will be trained and Iraq will be one big step closer to restoring what was broken!
April 30, 2010 by Jessica · Comments Off
Visiting Leah’s house this week was so much fun. She is developing well and her parents continue to work with her everyday to help her struggle through her Down Syndrome. We gave her some stacking rings, which she picked up and chewed and wore as bracelets while playing with her older sister, Dia, who is two years old.
A few weeks ago Leah’s mom watched me with a careful eye taking in everything I was doing with Leah. She then repeated it all after me to get Leah to engage in play rather than just lay still – which is going to be such a critical part of her development. Now, thanks to this simple modeling session and her mother’s diligence to practice and work with her, Leah can now roll over, sit up with little support, grab and hold toys and giggle about it all.
She is gaining weight steadily and should be just the right size for her surgery in July.
April 29, 2010 by Jeremy · Comments Off
Photo by Heber Vega
It’s been awhile since we visited Shwan in his village near Ranya in northern Iraq after sending him to a much-needed surgery in May 2009. He has officially “graduated” from our Family Followthrough program and has grown a great deal, re-engaged in school, and increased his activity out in the streets and parks with other boys his age. He’s a soccer (football) fanatic – he even brought his favorite trading cards with him to surgery last May!
The free flow of oxygenated blood throughout his body now that the hole in his heart has been closed has allowed for much more physical energy and brain energy. He seems to really enjoy school now – his father is a mathematics teacher!
We do not do our work her so that we will be thanked or praised. But it sure does feel nice when people appreciate the efforts expended on their behalf and for their well-being. That’s one of the reasons that it is such a joy to visit Shwan’s family: they are genuinely grateful and it shows.
The occasion for our visit had a lot to do with our friend Lawan Hawizy in London and his efforts to run in the Paris Semi Marathon to raise money for other kids like Shwan. Lawan’s brother, Salan, traveled with us to inspect our work and our relationships with the families so that he could help inform Lawan’s fundraising efforts and work himself as a Kurd in northern Iraq to raise money for some of these children. After our visit Lawan went on to run (and finish!) the Paris Semi and raised $2,000 for our February Surgery Group.
Many thanks to all who have given so that dear children like Shwan can enjoy their childhood, can see firsthand the benefits of learning to give your time and resources away so that others might benefit, and can learn of a world where hate is not the only option.
NEXT IN LINE FOR SURGERY
Unlike so many kids we see, Bawar has a condition that makes him a great candidate for a total correction. If we are able to send him to surgery in the next three months, he has a great chance of living a totally normal life. Bawar will hopefully be the 62nd child for whom we’ve provided surgery with your help! As you’ve seen with Shwan above, you really can make a profound difference in his life!
|Do you intend on volunteering your time in the near future? May we suggest three ways to volunteer your time with the Preemptive Love Coalition to save children’s lives in Iraq:|
1.) Sign up for our newsletter to stay apprised of news and ways you can advocate on behalf of Bawar and others to save lives in Iraq.
|2.) Write a blog post, email, or old-fashioned snail mail letter to your friends alerting them to the situation facing Bawar and let them know that there are solutions available that yield results as fantastic as Shwan’s!|
|3.) Send out a “tweet” or a message about us on Facebook, suggesting your friends check out Bawar’s opportunity to receive lifesaving heart surgery. (HINT: You can also use the “SHARE” button below.|
For more volunteering ideas send an email to email@example.com.
To give, please use the fast and simple form below.
We visited Shwana in his village today, arriving only two hours before his mid-term test. He sat politely with us talking about football and playstation then excused himself to go study for his test. Sitting under the kitchen window for light (because his house doesn’t have electricity during the day) he and his brother studied together.
We sat in the other room talking over their chants of memorization in the background. His mother proudly explained how he has now outgrown all of his clothes that were falling off his body before his surgery just 7 months ago. Weight gain can be a great sign of health in a post-op child!
His father arrived from his job as a teacher just before lunch in time to quiz Shwana a little before he needed to leave. The entire family exuded happiness and pride in him as we ate a delicious Kurdish meal. After a very quick lunch, Shwana left and hurried to school so he wouldn’t be late for his test.
It was a great day with his family and we are excited with him that what you made happen with a single surgery in Istanbul, Turkey has led to a completely normal life for Shwana back in Iraq.