US, UK failing Iraq health services, says medical charity


London : A leading British medical charity Wednesday accused the occupation forces in Iraq and their governments of failure to protect health, or to facilitate the rebuilding of a health system based on primary care principles in the country.

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Medact, an organization of health professionals, called for urgent measures to improve health and health services, policy, human resources, infrastructure, supplies, and health information.

It also scrutinized one specific area of health need – mental health, which it said was often neglected despite its profound long- term impact.

In a report, entitled ‘Rehabilitation under fire: health care in Iraq, the charity described how war and its aftermath continue to have a disastrous impact on the physical and mental health of the Iraqi people.

“The health system is in disarray, not only because of the underlying security, but owing to the lack of an institutional framework, huge staff shortages, intermittent electricity, unsafe water supply, and frequent violations of medical neutrality,” it said.

The report highlighted how Iraq’s Ministry of Health and local health authorities are mostly unable to meet the huge challenges, while saying the activities of UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations are restricted.

“Repeated failures to recognize the special status of health services and personnel in times of conflict have created an environment in which violations of the Geneva Conventions are common,” it warned.

Despite a dramatic rise in total health expenditure, Medact said “bureaucracy and import problems prevented the Ministry of Health from spending all its budget in 2006-7.”

It also warned that effective procurement and distribution of medicines was undermined by the US drive for privatization. There was a fragmented fee-for-service system that delivers often “inadequate curative care, and neglects preventive health care.” Drugs are often in short supply or out of stock, while prescription medicines are often counterfeit, adulterated or date- expired, and expensive, the report highlighted.

Its recommendations included allowing Iraqi leaders, health experts and civil society to be given the space to determine the development of their health system on the basis of their constitution.

“The abuses of international law in Iraq need to be objectively documented, and there must be greater accountability,” Medact said.

More support was also wanted for humanitarian projects, while small- scale local programs were inadequately funded.