Tue, Mar 18, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Iraqis lack basic healthcare: Red Cross

AP , GENEVA

Five years after the US-led invasion to topple former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, many Iraqis still lack access to basic healthcare, sanitation and clean water, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said yesterday.

The humanitarian situation in Iraq is among the most critical in the world, the Red Cross said, noting that the conflict has worsened the impact of previous wars and years of international sanctions that caused severe hardship in the country.

Iraqi hospitals lack qualified staff and basic drugs, and facilities are not properly maintained, the Red Cross said.

Public hospitals provide 30,000 beds, less than half of the 80,000 needed.

Few Iraqis can afford to seek help in private clinics where consultations cost US$2 to US$7 because the average daily wage in the country is less than US$5.

The Red Cross said Iraqi officials estimate that more than 2,200 doctors and nurses have been killed and more than 250 kidnapped since 2003. Of the 34,000 doctors registered in 1990, at least 20,000 have left the country.

The neutral body said water supplies have also deteriorated over the past year, causing shortages and forcing millions to rely on poor-quality supplies.

At current prices, families with only one earner spend a third of their income -- or about US$50 a month -- on water alone, the Red Cross said.

ICRC's head of operations for the region said that while security has improved in some parts of the country, more attention needs to be paid to meeting the basic needs of the population in order to prevent the humanitarian situation from getting worse.

"Better security in some parts of Iraq must not distract attention from the continuing plight of millions of people who have essentially been left to their own devices," Beatrice Megevand Roggo said.

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