Sir: In his response to your story about the plight of Iraq’s children (19 January), the tone of which suggested this government is preparing to wash its hands of the situation, Hilary Benn (letter, 20 January) did not address one point that I’d like to raise again.
The UK and US could do a lot more to assist children with the most serious medical conditions requiring urgent attention. By not doing so, both governments are reinforcing their own negative image not just in the region, but throughout the world.
Laying on helicopters or planes to ferry the most acute medical cases to neighbouring countries would be a life-saving measure where visa restrictions and huge air fares (a return air fare from Basra to Amman costs over Â£400), added to an already perilous security situation make it almost impossible for parents seeking to find specialists who can treat their children.
One of my colleagues recently appealed to the King of Jordan for assistance in this regard, which turned out to be unsuccessful. My own appeal to airlines in the region also saw us facing a bill of over Â£20,000 to fly 22 children, each accompanied by a parent, to the Jordanian capital of Amman. Road travel through much of Iraq to the surrounding countries is simply too dangerous for sick children whose conditions make them doubly vulnerable.
The Labour party in particular have always been proud of the NHS, and Tony Blair has in the past said it underpins Labour’s political ideology. However, when it comes to the health of Iraq’s most innocent and vulnerable citizens, he and Hilary Benn could make a small gesture and in some small way uphold that ideal in Iraq.
FOUNDER, 4BASRA, DUBLIN
Postscript: Only a few of the children with congenital heart defectsÂ were able to make it to Damascus to see the specialists who were visiting from France. Their parents had to borrow money from relatives and my colleague who works for our European partner NGO paid for a ticket for one child out of her own pocket.
Detailed medical reports were given to the French team and they agreed that even though they hadn’t been assessed in person, they can still travel to France for treatment.
My colleague has secured treatment in her country for several children whose conditionsÂ required urgent attention, and they are being treated and looked after there at the moment, receiving the best of care.
Even so, when the remaining children travel to France, they will first have to reach Damascus, and so there will be costs associated with this. Any donations will be put towards their travel from Basra so that they can reach France safely and receive the care and attention they need.