Iraqi Sanctions: Wthout Medicine And Supplies, The Children Die
Excerpted from the Monday, October 23, 2000 Hartford Courant
by Matthew Hay Brown
BASRA, Iraq - The cranky ring of the old telephone startles Dr. Faris Abdul Abbas awake. He glances at his watch. It's just past midnight, the dark beginning to a new day at Basra Maternity and Pediatrics Hospital.
The chief resident picks up the receiver. A 30-year-old woman has suffered a cervical tear during childbirth. Now she is in shock from loss of blood. Abbas is wanted in the delivery room.
|The embargo is harvesting children.|
He is preparing to leave his cramped office when the phone rings again. Four-year-old Nawris Khatan, a favorite of the hospital staff, has arrived at the trauma center in cardiac arrest. A cherubic little girl whose name is Arabic for "seagull," Nawris is severely anemic. Her parents have been scouring the hospitals and blood banks of Iraq's second-largest city for more than a week in search of blood for her monthly transfusion. They have had no success.
Woman and child both need type B-positive blood immediately.
Abbas dials the number for the hospital blood bank, but he is not hopeful. With plastic blood bags scarce under U.N. sanctions, the hospital canceled all elective surgery months ago. For all other procedures, blood -when it's available - is rationed sparingly.
The hospital blood bank has just one unit of B-positive, barely enough for one patient. Abbas will decide who will live and who will die.
The 33-year-old pediatrician walks the darkened hallway to the trauma center. He will not tell Nawris' young parents that he is giving the blood to the woman, an otherwise healthy mother of three. Instead, he tells them there is no blood, and asks them to pray with him. Fighting back tears, he begs God to spare the child until morning, when some might become available.
Back in his office, Abbas lays his head on his desk and cries. Dawn is still distant when Nawris dies.
"It is very difficult to work in these disaster conditions," Abbas says softly, as another hot morning breaks over Basra. "This is just one instance. There are many, many instances like it all the time."
The U.N. embargo has devastated all of life in Iraq. But nowhere is the deprivation more evident than in the once-modern health care system, where sanctions deny doctors the medicine and equipment they need to save patients dying of the curable diseases burgeoning amid the wreckage of war. U.N. officials estimate more than 1 million Iraqis have died in the last decade as a direct result of the sanctions.