This is today's
news (with emphasis added):
A reconstruction contract for the building of 142 primary health centers
across Iraq is running out of money, after two years and roughly $200 million,
with no more than 20 clinics now expected to be completed, the U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers says.
The contract, awarded to U.S. construction giant Parsons Inc. in the flush,
early days of reconstruction in Iraq, was expected to lay the foundation
of a modern health care system for the country, putting quality medical care
within reach of all Iraqis.
Why the emphasis? Well, first of all, the joke that building a bunch of clinics,
even if it had succeeded, would have put quality medical care "within reach
of all Iraqis." It doesn't do that in the United States, and it wouldn't
have done that in Iraq either, under the new and definitely not improved "free
market system" introduced to Iraq by its current masters.
Second, and more importantly, is the fact which is stated, but only in half-truth
form, much later in the article:
U.S. authorities say they made a special effort to preserve the more than
$700 million of work for Iraq's health care system, which had fallen into
decay after two decades of war and international sanctions.
Yes, the Iraqi health care system had indeed been battered beyond recognition
by the efforts of the United States and its allies. But what the article doesn't
mention is where it stood before that assault began. In this
post from September, 2003, I explored that question in detail:
There is, of course, a lot of material to read explaining the effect
of sanctions on Iraq. From example, here's a first-hand
report from Gloria LaRiva, visiting Baghdad with Ramsey Clark and
a delegation from the International Action Center in 1997. Just one fact
out of many from that article: "Before sanctions, Iraq imported $500
million worth of medicines from Jordan. Last year it could only afford
$7 million worth." More first-hand observations from 1998 can be
found in this report
by Sharon Eolis, RN, visiting Iraq with the Iraq Sanctions Challenge.
She writes "Before the United States/United Nations sanctions and
the Gulf war, Iraq had a developed, nationalized health-care system that
provided care to everyone. The level of technological development in health
care was on a par with industrialized Western nations." Some more
from this very informative article:
Safe drinking water is a basic human need. Chlorine is used to disinfect
water. UNSCOM, the UN Sanctions Committee, limits the amount of chlorine
imported to Iraq because it is considered a dual substance that can
be used to make poison gas.
Iraqis at a Baghdad water treatment center told delegate Dave Sole--a
water specialist from Detroit--that there is not enough chlorine available
to make the water safe to drink.
According to one of the Iraqi doctors we spoke with, 80 percent of
the cases of amebic dysentery could be eradicated if there were clean
water. In 1989, there were 19,615 cases; in 1997 the number rose to
In 1980, there were no cases of cholera in Iraq. In 1997, there were
10,000 cases caused by contaminated water and food.
And, we need to remind our readers that the destruction of Iraq's water
supply, and the consequences which followed, was a deliberate
policy of the U.S. government, as documented here.
I haven't mentioned Bremer's responses to DeWine's questioning. Bremer
told DeWine that, besides for (or as a result of) the lack of spending
by Iraq on health care, "the infrastructure is appallingly run down,"
and when asked by DeWine "How do you begin to improve the infant
mortality rate?", his answer was to spend "$400 million on hospital
refurbishment." Not a word about restoring the water purification
and electricity generating systems, nor about importing medicines. Bremer
clearly understands (or was willing to acknowledge) nothing about the
causes of the problems nor their solutions.
Instead of spending $400 million on hospital refurbishment (no doubt
designated for some Bechtel subsidiary), Bremer should let the Cubans
take over. Cuba has the lowest
infant mortality rate in the Americas (yes, lower than the United
States), and they didn't accomplish that by concentrating on "hospital
refurbishment" (though I'm sure they did that too), but by understanding
public health (water, sewage, nutrition) and providing free health care
(as Iraq did, of course) with clinics in every neighborhood.
Are things going badly in Iraq? No, they're much, much worse, and with
folks like Bremer in charge, the future's so dark they've gotta
wear night-vision goggles.
Followup: Stephen Zunes, analyzing
Bush's speech to the UN, has this observation:
Bush: By the end of 2004, more than 90 percent of Iraqi children under
age five will have been immunized against preventable diseases such
as polio, tuberculosis, and measles thanks to the hard work and high
ideals of UNICEF.
Zunes: This figure would be comparable to childhood immunization rates
in Iraq prior to the U.S.-led Gulf War in 1991 and subsequent sanctions
that largely destroyed the country’s public health system.
Incidentally, you don't have to take the word of leftists like Gloria LaRiva
or Sharon Eolis or Stephen Zunes on the state of the Iraqi health care system
in the early 90's. In searching to find out if Bush's prediction about immunizations
would come true (remarkably enough, it seems it did), I found the USAID
report on the subject, which includes this statement
Once considered the best in the region, Iraq's health system
currently has some of the worst health statistics. Diarrhea, measles, respiratory
infections, and malaria -- compounded by under-nutrition affecting 30 percent
of children under five -- contribute to excessive rates of infant and child
mortality. Lack of care during pregnancy contributes to high maternal mortality
rates. Tuberculosis and cholera have reemerged.
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