In April 1996 we visited Iraq to assess medical care services six years after the United Nations imposed economic sanctions. We visited a range of hospitals and health centres, which included 20% of Iraq's civilian institutional beds, in all regions of the country, except the Kurdish Autonomous Region.
We found nearly one third of hospital beds were closed, and the average length of stay had more than halved since before the Gulf war. More than half of the hospitals' diagnostic and therapeutic equipment was not working owing to a lack of spare parts or maintenance. All public hospitals experienced serious problems with lighting, cleaning, water supply, and sewage. We found that patients routinely brought their own blankets for warmth and used personal kerosene or electric heaters. By contrast, the second floor of Baghdad's Ibn El Baladi Hospital got so hot in summer that "any child who comes to the hospital without a lever ends tip with one."
One hospital's cleaning budget was 1500 diners a month (about 1.50 [pounds sterling] ($2) at black market rates), which provided only hand soap for operating theatres. Disinfectants and antiseptics were almost non-existent. Hospitals were cleaned only with water. At the Ibn Al Atheer Hospital pieces of sheets and blankets from beds had replaced brushes on electric floor polishing machines. The number of cleaning staff at this 200 bed hospital had fallen from 20 to two.
Most hospitals' plumbing had been without repairs or maintenance for years. Every hospital we visited had leaking sewage pipes. Entire wards in some hospitals were without a working toilet, leaving toilets elsewhere overcrowded and unsanitary. Flies, insects, or vermin were seen...
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