Sunday, September 05, 2004

Doctors Without Ideas 

What is it about groups of 50 plus professionals who write passionate letters against involvement in Iraq? Beats me, but after former American and British diplomats and Australian diplomats and military leaders, we now have a letter from 54 Australian doctors who feel strongly that Australia shouldn't be involved in Iraq, or if it should, then only under the UN supervision and only in a civilian capacity, preferably just rebuilding hospitals.

Leaving aside the issue of whether the war in Iraq was right or wrong (as the Treasurer Peter Costello said, it's a matter of opinion, and the doctors are entitled to theirs), some other statements in the letter bear closer inspection. This one, for instance:
"The war is causing horrific injuries and loss of life to Iraq's people, particularly children."
Which is unfortunately true, but so were other alternatives, such as economic sanctions (according to Victorian Peace Network, for example, sanctions have contributed to the deaths of 1.5 million Iraqis). I also can't seem to recall a similar letter from 54 eminent medical practitioners a few years ago protesting the oppression and violence inflicted on the Iraqi people by Saddam Hussein. But I guess America and Australia weren't involved then, so that's alright.

The good doctors also make a claim that
"[the war] has destroyed essential infrastructure, including the health system."
This will be some news to those who actually have some idea about the state of Iraqi infrastructure before the war. The doctors might want to read the Bulletin of the World Health Organisation, which states:
"[T]he system was 'already badly run down' [before the invasion] due to previous wars, sanctions, drastically reduced spending — some estimates suggest the Iraqi health budget was cut by 90 per cent during the 1990s — as well as an inequitable health treatment policy. Decades of weak primary health care have resulted in high rates of maternal and child mortality, and of malnutrition."
They might also talk to their colleague, Iraqi Health Minister Khudair Abbas who noted that "[t]he degree of deterioration that the Iraqi health sector has reached over the past decades, and the corruption of many employees working in it, is only making my job [of reconstruction] very challenging, almost impossible." Elsewhere, Minister Abbas has said:
"Mortality rates increased and almost tripled for infants, children, and mothers between 1990 and the year 2000... The physical infrastructure of primary health centers and hospitals has very seriously deteriorated to the degree that they are now incapable of delivering basic health services of acceptable standards."
Or the doctors might want to chat with George Shieber, manager of the World Bank's Health and Social Protection Sector:
" 'In the 1970s, Iraq probably had the best healthcare system in the Middle East'... Obviously, [Shieber says], with three wars and the diversion of most funds for other purposes, the health sector suffered grievously and medical statistics declined tremendously in terms of infant and maternal mortality rates."
One of the letter's signatories, University of Sydney School of Health head, Professor Bruce Armstrong says that "there is very little evidence of any money being spent on health aid in Iraq." Being busy saving lives in Australia, Prof Armstrong probably overlooked some of the news reports like this one:
"Iraq's health system overall is off the critical list and more or less stable, if suffering occasional lapses. Last year, $245 million (£135 million) was spent on reviving its 240 crumbling hospitals, more than a dozen times the $20 million budget it had under Saddam (roughly 44p per person). This year, the spending will nearly quadruple to $950 million. The 32,000 doctors and nurses will be retrained to catch up on the past 15 years of medical science. Staff who fled to the US and Britain are occasionally coming back and state-owned hospitals that were once 'self-financing', Saddam-speak for making patients pay for operations, are free again."
Or this one:
"Iraq spent only $20 million on health care in 2002. Now, the Ministry of Health has a $1 billion budget. Most of the money comes from oil revenues, but the United States and other nations are supplementing this as the result of last year's donors conference in Madrid. This does not mean the Ministry is awash in money, but the increase has raised health care spending from 68 cents per Iraqi in 2002 to about $40 today. As a result, Iraq's 240 hospitals are running despite severe shortages of medicines and other supplies and staff are being paid after going unsalaried for months leading to the 2003 war."
Even if Prof Armstrong is only referring to Australian aid, we should bring to his attention the fact that Australia has already given A$125 million in humanitarian aid to Iraq. Some of it was going towards health needs even before the fighting even stopped.

Ultimately, the doctors' attitude is a familiar, medical one: "Iraq, heal thyself." But since the experience of the last three decades demonstrated that Iraqis were not able without significant outside assistance to free themselves of dictatorship, stop the oppression and better their condition, "Iraq, heal thyself" in reality amounts to no more than "Iraq, screw yourself."


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?