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Saturday, November 11, 2006


"Helping" Iraqis...to an early grave

When the latest Johns Hopkins report was released, the one thing I expressed skepticism about was the figure of 53,000 excess non-violent deaths. I wrote about that:
"I have to say that, scientific method or no scientific method, I find this very hard to believe, given the state of public health (water, etc.) and actual health care (hospitals, etc.) in Iraq. Perhaps the only thing that explains it is that, after a decade of sanctions, things were already so much worse than 'normal.' Imagine if their baseline had been the 1980's."
Today, the Los Angeles Times carries an article which sheds some light on the state of health care in Iraq, as well as on my comment above:
Thousands of Iraqis are believed to have died from shortages of medicine, vital equipment and qualified doctors, despite an infusion of nearly half a billion dollars from U.S. coffers into this country's healthcare system, Iraqi officials and American observers say.

Raging sectarian violence as well as theft, corruption and mismanagement have drained health resources and made deliveries of supplies difficult. Exacerbating the crisis, hundreds of doctors have been killed, and thousands have fled Iraq. The child mortality rate, a key indicator of a nation's health, has worsened since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, according to Iraqi government figures.

Healthcare in Iraq once was first rate. Medicine and hospital care were free, doctors well-educated and respected. But neglect by former President Saddam Hussein and years of United Nations sanctions laid waste to the system.

The nation's health has deteriorated to a level not seen since the 1950s, said Joseph Chamie, former director of the U.N. Population Division and an Iraq specialist.

"They were at the forefront," he said, referring to healthcare just before the 1991 Persian Gulf War. "Now they're looking more and more like a country in sub-Saharan Africa."
My only argument with this article is the reference to "neglect by former President Saddam Hussein." The fact that medicine and hospital care were free, and that an excellent public education system was producing well-educated doctors (and other professionals), were a direct result of the semi-socialist policies of Saddam Hussein and the Ba'ath party. It was the "United Nations" (in reality, U.S./U.K.) sanctions which forced the alleged "neglect."

On the numeric front, the article gives us this:

At one of the busiest hospitals in Baghdad, five people die on average every day because the staff does not have the equipment to treat heart attacks and other commonplace illnesses and injuries, said Husam Abud, a doctor at Yarmouk Hospital. That translates to more than 1,800 preventable deaths a year at that hospital alone.
1,800 deaths a year translates to 6,300 deaths in the 3 1/2 years since the invasion. I don't know what percentage of the patients in the entire country are treated by this one hospital, but I feel confident in saying it's a lot more than one-tenth, which would translate to a lot more than 63,000 excess deaths, and hence a lot more than the number arrived at by the Johns Hopkins study. There are two explanations. One is that the Johns Hopkins study was wrong. The second, which I posited last month, is simply that, while the number of people dying from preventable non-violent causes is high, it was also high (but not quite as high) before the invasion, thanks to the years of brutal (and deadly) sanctions, hence raising the baseline used by the JHU researchers.

Whatever the case, one thing we know for sure. Thanks to the "help" they've received from imperialism, Iraqis are not worse off than they were before the invasion. They're much worse off.

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