Irish Medical News Feature

For most Irish doctors and nurses, the daily battle to save lives doesn’t begin until they reach their workplace.

In the southern Iraqi city of Basra however – about 600km south of the capital Baghdad – it’s a battle just to get to work safely through the dusty, rubbish-strewn and war-torn streets without being kidnapped or murdered.

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Nearly 150 doctors there went on strike earlier this year in July to protest against the assassinations, kidnappings, threats and blackmail they face, and to demand that the government protect them and their families.

According to the Basra Doctors’ Association, 12 doctors in Basra have been killed since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

One was a female gynaecologist who was murdered on her way to work one morning. Another was kidnapped, his body later found cut into pieces in a rubbish dump on the outskirts of the city.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s File on 4, sources in Basra say that a Shia Taleban “mafia” enforce a culture of fear and have a stranglehold on the city now that British forces have retreated to Basra airport. Having infiltrated the police force, many hospitals and the Basra Provincial Council, they rule with a deadly iron fist.

Educated people, such as doctors and nurses are especially in danger. Young girls are scared to go to school or university. According to another source at one of the city’s hospitals, 50 bodies arrive at the hospital’s morgue every day.

Meanwhile, on the outskirts of the city, an American USAID effort is spending millions of dollars, building a brand new children’s hospital. However, while it has been on-schedule and on-budget so far, the project might run into problems when doctors, nurses, surgeons and stocks of supplies and medicines need to be found to run it.

Faced with threats of kidnapping and murder, up to 75 per cent of Iraq’s doctors, pharmacists and nurses have left their hospitals, universities and clinics according to the Iraqi Medical Association.

In the only hospital with the means to treat serious conditions such as Leukaemia, when it can get the medicines, a third of the patients in one ward have to lie on the floor because there aren’t enough beds. Children seeking relief from illness arrive only to discover their suffering will be prolonged in uncomfortable conditions.

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Hospitals from other towns and cities in southern Iraq continue to send their patients there because they know the hospital has access to medicines such as Pentostam, which is used to treat leishmaniasis, which is caused by the sandfly parasite.

Despite being surrounded by water, cases of cholera, dysentery and typhoid persist because many of those living in Basra do not have access to clean water. There are billions of barrels of oil lying under the sands of southern Iraq, but those that have not been able to leave have to queue for hours for petrol for their cars or generators. Electricity is also a rare luxury throughout the city.

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News about the plight of the Iraqi people has edged out of the Irish media spotlight. Our politicians rarely mention the subject and people have grown immune to the bombings that frequently make the news headlines.

Concern for ordinary Iraqis was not at the top of the conference’s agenda when Labour Foreign Affairs spokesman Michael D. Higgins and Green Party Senator Dan Boyle spoke at a conference of the Irish Anti-War Movement in Dublin last week.

Instead they preferred to debate tired subjects such as Irish neutrality and US troops being flown via Shannon and ‘media propaganda.’ It’s a pity that the energy and sentiments of the Movement weren’t directed to real action or fundraising to help those who are struggling in the wake of the war.

Despite the horrendous conditions, one tiny charity based in Vienna, Austria has succeeded in refurbishing part of the existing Basra children’s hospital. Dull and dirty wards and corridors are now bright, clean and equipped with modern blood testing and other machines.

By co-operating with other NGOs such as Caritas, Aladin’s Wunderlampe Projekte has been supplying the hospital with medicines and supplies two or three times a year.

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4Basra contributed €1,100 earlier this year after writing about the charity and we are now appealing to the Irish medical community to help in whatever way you can, with donations or offers to help with fundraising.

I hope that you will be part of a small group of Irish businesses, politicians and media personalities will also contribute to this effort

All monies raised will be used by the Aladin’s Projekte to pay for a shipment of medicine and supplies which will be sent to Basra. The cost is €150,000 and so far a third of the money has been raised.

With thanks to Donal Bergin at the Irish Medical News.

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