Because of the 1991 Gulf War and 12 years of UN economic sanctions, Iraq's health sector, previously one of the best in the region, has been shattered. The incidence of preventable diseases has increased by more than 100 percent. Under-five mortality rates have almost tripled since 1991.
An in-country research venture last month by the International Study Team found that 500,000 of Iraq's 13 million children suffer from malnutrition.
"All Our Children" (AOC), a $1 million dollar campaign instigated by a consortium of American faith-based organizations including MCC, hopes to counter these trends and is directing its response at the critical health care needs of Iraqi children.
Medical supplies contributed to "All Our Children"
This week, MCC's contribution of almost $90,000 USD worth of medicines and medical supplies to AOC arrived at ISRA's Baghdad warehouse, to be distributed to medical institutions and health centers that cater specifically to children.
Though the present focus is on medicine and medical supplies (items such as antibiotics, anaesthesia materials and IV solution kits), the AOC campaign will support a variety of health-related activities. This may include medical training, feeding programs, and the provision of water purification systems and specialized medical equipment.
At a time when Iraqis are preoccupied with the threat of war from the USA and the UK, and are preparing for the worst, MCC workers see these inputs as vital.
"The state of health services in Iraq is already precarious," said Menno Wiebe, MCC Country Co-representative for Iraq and Jordan. "A US-led war will take it over the edge."
War would devestate Iraq
Any upcoming war will devastate the country, confirm United Nations sources.
Some 16 million Iraqis, out of a population of 25 million, rely completely on food rations distributed by the Iraqi government and financed through the UN's Oil-for-Food program. Any interruption in these supplies would lead to an immediate increase in severe malnutrition.
A military attack by the USA and its allies would undoubtedly affect electricity supplies and, because water treatment facilities need electricity to operate, would cut access to water for most Iraqis.
The lack of clean water, as well as lack of wastewater treatment facilities, would likely lead to a dramatic increase in diseases such as diarrhea and typhoid fever, particularly among children.
UN agencies have predicted as many as 100,000 direct casualties in the event of war, with half a million Iraqis requiring medical treatment. More than 900,000 people could be forced from their homes, on the move without food, water resources or shelter.
"All Our Children" provides basic help
Sura Ra'ad reads, but the process is a constant battle with pain and discomfort. Lacrimal disease, which affects tear ducts, causes her to continually squint and rub her eyes.
Here at Baghdad's Al-Najat orphanage, 9-year-old Sura has a comfortable bed and eats quite well, fed in part through food donations made last year by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and partner Islamic Relief Agency (ISRA). But her medical condition remains untreated.
At Al-Najat Orphanage, and throughout Iraq, there is hope that war can still be avoided, though many Iraqis are resigned to spending upcoming weeks and months in a state of turmoil.
Sura Ra'ad is one of the luckier children in Iraq, with access to shelter and good nutrition. Given the state of Iraq's health care sector, she may not get the tear duct surgery she needs any time in the near future.
The AOC initiative, however, will be able to provide her and children like her with desperately-needed antibiotics to treat such conditions, as well as other basic medicines and invaluable medical services.