Report finds worsening public health crisis in Iraq; "intellectual boycott" undermining medical training

Contact: Carl Maugeri 215 241-7060
A medical delegation to Iraq, sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), has found that economic sanctions are undermining every level of that country's health care system and impeding access to scientific journals for medical professionals.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - A report by an AFSC-sponsored medical delegation to Iraq has found that UN-imposed economic sanctions have eroded the health care systems in that country and have blocked access to new scientific and medical information necessary to train health care professionals. The report found that sanctions have virtually halted the delivery of books, professional journals and computer technology into Iraq.

The AFSC delegation, which consisted of three pediatricians and three public health professionals, visited six of Iraq's 10 medical colleges and interviewed 30 Iraqi physicians and academicians in preparing its report.

"These restrictions, which are unprecedented in scope and longevity, have seriously affected Iraqi health care and medical education that will affect medical services and training for years to come," said Dr. Leila Richards, a public health consultant and leader of the AFSC delegation. She said that the isolation of Iraqi health professionals and the restrictions on scientific freedom brought on by the "intellectual embargo" have received little or no attention by human rights and academic communities.

"Prohibiting the transmission of scientific knowledge to another country is unconscionable and, politically speaking, counterproductive," Richards noted. "Cutting off medical information to Iraqi doctors not only has an adverse effect on patient care, but isolates and punishes all Iraqis."

The report also contains a proposal for developing a social science research committee to address the lack of social scientists in Iraq available to address issues about life in Iraq today.

Among the report's findings is information about how the oil for food program "does not address Iraq's growing social problems, including declining school enrollments, child labor and juvenile delinquency, and the emigration and 'deprofessionalization' of millions of middle class Iraqis -- problems that pose a growing threat to the future stability of the country." The report notes additional non-material effects of sanctions contributing to a decline in the quality of life for Iraqis. These effects include a severe reversal of once-modern hospitals that now resemble conditions found in the world's poorest countries. Basic supplies such as clean bed linens, hand towels, proper lighting in hospital stairwells and hallways, oxygen and bactericidal soap are lacking.

"All the conditions needed for the spread of infectious disease are present in hospital wards: crowding, inadequate ventilation, faulty plumbing and instruments that cannot be properly cleaned," the report states.

Air pollution from aging cars and trucks and low grade fuel has contributed to public health problems including a rise in emergency visits due to asthma and other acute respiratory illnesses. The degraded environment is having an especially significant impact on the most vulnerable in Iraqi society.

"Infants and young children grow up in an environment in which they are more likely to be ill, and chronic malnutrition will affect not only a child's health but his cognitive development," the report states.

The report concludes with a series of recommendations urging the UN and its member nations to address the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and to develop policies that would support Iraq's right to economic self-determination.

The AFSC believes that Iraq can achieve economic self-determination only when the economic sanctions are lifted.

To obtain a copy of the report entitled Living Under Sanctions in Iraq: The Oil For Food Program and The Intellectual Embargo, contact Paula Goldberg, AFSC International Programs -- Middle East Region, 1501 Cherry Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102 or by calling 215/241-7144 or e-mail Web address is

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The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that includes people of various faiths who are committed to social justice, peace, and humanitarian service. Its work is based on the Quaker belief in the worth of every person and faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice.

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