[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Saturday, 10 May, 2003, 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK
Iraq's medical emergency
Matthew Price
By Matthew Price
BBC correspondent in Baghdad

There's a man standing still among the chaos of the accident and emergency department.

He is naked. His back turned towards me. His face looking down at the floor, though I doubt he can see anything.

Iraqi children at Baghdad hospital
The health service is getting worse
His arms are raised away from his body so the doctor can smooth cream onto his torso. When the doctor is finished, he is gently lowered onto the hospital bed.

And there he lies. His face yellow, his legs red raw where the skin has been burnt off. Slowly dying.

There are many others like him in the emergency department at Saddam Medical City. All brought in following an explosion at a petrol station.

A woman screams through her tears: "Saddam and Bush are bastards," she shouts at me. "They killed our men."

There is enough painkiller in the hospital to give just four more injections. There is no fluid to sterilise equipment. Too few staff to look after patients.

There are no communications - no one co-ordinating the response to this disaster across the city. When the electricity fails there is even less the doctors can do.

One of them came up to me as the patients' moans echoed around the darkness.

"You see what we are up against? You see it now?" All I can see is a woman trying to fan her son with a hospital x-ray.

Gunshot victims

Like most things in Iraq the health service is getting worse.

I met Dr Ahmed trying to work out what to do with his latest gunshot victim.

"This is where the bullet went in," he pointed at the forehead. "And it came out here, through his jaw."

Doctors say senior managers stole drugs to sell on the black market... They intimidated staff, forcing them to administer out-of-date medicine
The man's right eye, what was left of it, was a bloodied congealed mess. He'd travelled for three hours in the family car to get here. There was no other hospital that could help him.

In a single hour, Dr Ahmed told me, he had seen 15 people come in with bullet injuries. Like the little boy, six-years-old, shot in the stomach. By a five-year-old who'd found a gun.

Guns have become a part of life since the fall of Saddam. There's no government to enforce the law, so people are arming themselves.

Every night at about 2330 I listen to the shots ringing out across the city. Anyone who says peace has come to Iraq has clearly not been here lately.

The heat of summer

Doctors in Baghdad stage a protest over the appointment of new head of the Health Ministry for his alleged ties to old regime
Doctors in Iraq are calling for change
The emergency that Iraq's hospitals face is partly due to years of sanctions. War exacerbated the effects. Mismanagement played its part too.

Doctors say senior managers stole drugs to sell on the black market. They intimidated staff, forcing them to administer out-of-date medicine.

When looters raided the Ministry of Health after Baghdad fell, they found essential drugs that had never been passed onto the doctors.

The managers deny the allegations. They're still in control of the hospital. One doctor told me: "They killed thousands. A crime against humanity."

Children in Iraqi hospital
War exacerbated the effects of years of sanctions in the hospitals
Now that the heat of summer has arrived things are likely to get worse. Baghdad's water supply is erratic and dirty. Dysentery is setting in. The doctors don't even have the drugs to deal with that.

They've also asked the one and only charity that has come in to offer help for medicine to tackle black fever. Borne by a fly, without treatment 90% of those who are bitten die. At the moment no one seems to be able to bring the drug in.

'Where is the doctor?'

The worst time in the hospital is around dawn. I wandered up to the fifth floor, where many of the burns victims were being cared for. By their own relatives. There had been no doctor on the ward for six hours.

Medical supplies are loaded on to trucks at Baghdad airport
Medical supplies are urgently needed in Iraq's hospitals
A man stood stooped over his brother. He was crying, occasionally raising his head to scream at no one in particular.

"Where is the doctor? Where is the doctor?" The doctors were asleep. They've been working flat out since the war began.

The man looked at me, his eyes full of tears. He banged the bed with his fist, shouting at his brother to stop moving, to stop aggravating the burns. Not knowing how to help.

Outside the window the birds were calling in another beautiful day, the sky pink and blue.

As I walked back down the corridor I noticed a door slightly open, a man knelt outside, crying. Inside a bed, the blanket stretched out over the body underneath.

The latest victim of Iraq's so-called peace.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific