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Thursday, 25 May, 2000, 23:21 GMT 00:21 UK
Child death rate doubles in Iraq
Iraqi mother and child
Iraqi child mortality is soaring
The toll of war and years of sanctions on the health of Iraq's children has been revealed by new research..

In the parts of the country most affected by both, infant mortality has more than doubled, rising well beyond 100 per 1,000 live births.

This puts Iraq, once a highly prosperous country with and advanced health system, on a par with some of the poorest developing countries when it comes to infant mortality.

The new study, led by scientists at the London School of Hygeine and Tropical Medicine, was published in the Lancet medical journal.

However, it found that infant and child mortality in the autonomous, mainly Kurd region in the North of the country, has actually fallen, perhaps reflecting the more favourable distribution of aid in that area.

Iraq's oil wealth led to swift economic and social development leading up to the start of the 1991 conflict.

Shortly before the start of UN sanctions, the healthcare system reached approximately 97% of the urban and 79% of the rural population.

Infant mortality - children born alive, but dying before their first birthday - had fallen to 47 per 1,000 live births between 1984 and 1989.

This compares to approximately 7 per 1,000 in the UK.

Overall health

Infant and child mortality is a good indicator of the overall health of the population, as poor nutrition of the mother may lead to premature birth, one of the key factors in early death.

The surge in mortality also reflects low access to health services, and clean drinking water and sanitation, which affects everyone.

The researchers looked at 23,000 women aged between 15 and 49 years, asking about the health of their children.

They found that in south and central Iraq, infant mortality had risen to 108 per 1,000 between 1994 and 1999, while child mortality - covering those between one and five years - rocketed from 56 to 131 per 1,000.

The sanctions have been now eased to allow an "Oil for Food" aid scheme which pushed back the threat of mass malnutrition. The sanctions were relaxed even further in December.

However, charity Save the Children says much more needs to be done.

A spokesman said: "These figures for infant mortality graphically illustrate the problems in Iraq.

"The Oil for Food programme has been under resourced to date and this has inevitably affected children's growth and development.

"The belated removal of the restriction on oil sales by the UN should slowly increase the resources available.

"But removal or suspension of sanctions would not guarantee immediate improvements for vulnerable groups."

"We consider a long term plan is required for both the infrastructure and human needs of the population - talk of food and medicines after nearly 10 years of sanctions means we 'forget' the educational and social needs of young people."

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See also:

06 Jan 00 | Middle East
Iraq trade sanctions plea
06 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
Iraq talks with China on sanctions
11 May 00 | Middle East
Drought raises food fears
17 Apr 00 | Americas
UN aims for kinder sanctions
14 Apr 00 | Middle East
Iraq's ward of death
02 Apr 00 | Middle East
Iraq struggles under sanctions
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