Iraq: Child mortality soars because of violence, poor health care

BAGHDAD, 15 May 2007 (IRIN) - A recent report by the US-based NGO Save the Children says that although Iraq's under-five mortality rate is in the middle range when compared to other developing countries, it has worsened faster than in any other country. Observers say the main reason for this is the continuing violence and lack of funds for the health sector.

"Never in Iraq's history have so many children died because of diseases and violence. The mortality rate among them has jumped to a level which will require years to be controlled," said Dr Jaffer Ali, a senior official and paediatrician in the Ministry of Health.

"In Iraq, children are dying from the easiest curable diseases worldwide like diarrhoea and pneumonia but with the deteriorated health situation in the country, the increase in the number of malnourished children and thousands of displaced living in poverty conditions, the possibility of reducing this high figure is remote," Ali added.

According to Save the Children's report 'State of the World's Mothers', released on 8 May, 50 Iraqi children died per 1,000 live births in 1990. Today, the rate is 125 per 1,000 births, more than double.

The organisation said some 122,000 Iraqi children died in 2005 before reaching their fifth birthday. More than half of these deaths were among newborn babies in the first month of life.

Pneumonia, diarrhoea

"Pneumonia and diarrhoea are the other two major killers of children in Iraq, together accounting for over 30 percent of child deaths. Only 35 percent of Iraqi children are fully immunized, and more than one-fifth are severely or moderately stunted," the report said.

Specialists said the remaining deaths resulted from the daily violence which has been taking the life of innocent infants.

"It is rare to see an explosion in which a child is not a victim. Schools have been attacked constantly and families targeted in which children are killed in cold blood," said Professor Abdel-Rahman Khalif, a human rights specialist at Mustansiriyah University in Baghdad.

Years of conflict

The Save the Children report also said that even before the US-led invasion in 2003, children were facing a grave humanitarian crisis caused by years of repression, conflict and external (UN-imposed) sanctions.

"Since 2003, electricity shortages, insufficient clean water, deteriorating health services and soaring inflation have worsened already difficult living conditions," the report said.

Local officials have said lack of resources for the health sector has also helped to worsen the situation.

"The priority in Iraq should be the health of the population but unfortunately this is being put aside and treated as an after-thought after many other sectors have been looked after," Ali from the Ministry of Health added.