Saturday, June 12, 2004

We cannot abandon Iraq's children

Your voice

If you need another reason for the United States to stay the course in Iraq, look at the children. In my opinion as a pediatrician with 35 years in private practice, this is the most important reason.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, enormous strides have occurred in the medical care of all children in Iraq. Recent, Dr. Maurice "Ed" Keenan and Dr. John Podgore, representing the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), returned to the United States from Iraq. They are a part of a continuing mission of medical assistance.

How was medical care during the previous regime? Apparently not that bad, if your name was Hussein. Quoting from the doctors' article published in the May 2004 issue of AAP News: "... hospitals are filthy (except for the state-of-the-art facility that served Hussein, his family and close associates), with limited water, dripping sewage and severe shortages of basic supplies." Iraq's health-care infrastructure had been deteriorating since 1980 with government corruption, wars and misuse of public funds under Hussein's regime

World Health Organization statistics: Infant mortality, 98 out of 1,000 live births. Children under 5 years of age, 133 out of 1,000 live births. Almost a third of the children of southern and central Iraq suffered from malnutrition. These are sky-high figures!

Dr. Podgore stated that the 70 percent of child mortality under 5 years due to diarrhea and respiratory infection is "consistent with health effects of natural human disasters."

Advancement in medicine is accomplished by free flow of information. Skepticism resolves through thorough and uninhibited discussion and scientific scrutiny. How does the present situation compare with the past? Quoting again: "At one point, an Iraqi physician marveled that he could publicly disagree with an administrator, without worry that his family would be mutilated or he would be killed."

According to Dr. Keenan, the AAP is held in high esteem in Iraq. He related a comment made by an older pediatrician at one of the universities, who said, "The AAP cares about all children."

We can't abandon, we can't turn our back on the children of Iraq.

Thomas J. Forristal, M.D., of Hyde Park is a pediatrician.

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