A Worsening Situation – Medical Care in Iraq

Iraq’s Woes Are Adding Major Risks To Childbirth: Violence, Curfews Curtailing Services
By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 4, 2007; Page A01

BAGHDAD — Noor Ibrahim lay shivering underneath two blankets on a bed at al-Jarrah Hospital. Steps away was a red plastic bassinet. It was empty.

A few doors down, her recently born son lay wrapped in a pink blanket. He was a chubby boy of nearly nine pounds with a big patch of black hair. His eyes were closed, his head cocked to the left, his mouth slightly open, his skin soft and pale.

The boy was not in a bassinet. He was in a cardboard box. He was not heading to his mother’s room. He was heading to the morgue.

“Fresh death,” Ibrahim’s obstetrician said as she reached into the box and lifted the boy’s limp right arm, still covered in blood and amniotic fluid.

Giving birth is painful enough as it is. In war-torn Iraq, it’s also becoming more dangerous.

Spontaneous road closures, curfews and gun battles make even getting to the hospital a challenge for expectant mothers. Once they arrive, the women have no guarantee that they will receive adequate health care from a qualified physician.

“It’s spiraling downward. It’s getting worse each day,” said Annees Sadik, an anesthesiologist at al-Jarrah.

Iraq once had a premier health-care system. But the trade embargo of the 1990s and now the exodus of medical professionals have made it no better than a third-world system, doctors say. Hospitals lack the equipment, drugs and medical expertise to make labor easier or to handle complications.

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