Thursday, August 02, 2007

Iraq's Medical Meltdown

"To me, in 2003, war is the utter nadir of humanity. It is the lowest low point. Especially in 2003, when we are no longer putting leeches on people when they have a house cold. We are no longer burning Bohemian, warted women who live at the end of the block with a lot of cats as witches. We don't do that anymore, so why would we not be able to, as rational adults, knowing what we know, seeing what war has done throughout history, why would we have one now?

"It seems to me, to use kind of a corny analogy, the solution to a conflict like the thing that just happened in Iraq is the proverbial needle inside inside the huge haystack. It's up to people with enough moral strength and intestinal fortitude to pull out every single piece of straw in that silo, looking for that needle, which is a non-lethal solution to this problem. To me, war, at this point, is just people getting lazy. They've pulled out nine hundred pieces of straw, but there's eighty million pieces of straw in here, we're never gonna get to the solution. Yeah, you will if you just persevere. 'Well I'm tired. I want to see what the bunker buster bomb does.' And to me, it was just like, 'Eighty-one, eighty-two, aw fuck it!! My ass hurts, let's kill 'em!' And that's what this thing was to me. It was just like people not taking the time to figure out a way to not bring in three quarters of a million troops into a country and beat the crap out of it."
— Henry Rollins, Talk Is Cheap, Volume 3

Yesterday I read a quite compelling article in Discover magazine concerning the Iraq war. This article focused on Iraq's health care system, both the American side and the Iraqi side of the situation.

I'll admit, when I first read the article synopsis in the table of contents: "War has left a gaping wound: Hospitals that were once the pinnacle of Middle Eastern health care now lack drugs, bandages, and even beds" I laughed out loud, the cynical bastard that I am. Yes, I laughed because it was just one more example of Bush's adamant legacy of complete, inept failure, driven by his desire to be remembered as a "war President." The article itself, however, puts a much more human face to the otherwise removed situation. I admit, I started reading the article with the cynical detatchment of the typical Internet critic, looking for examples to point out just one more way Bush's administration has dropped the ball with this war, but I ended up very seriously moved by the article.

This is a very gritty, very realistic, and dare I say even somewhat traumatic article about war injuries, substandard medical care, and the corrupt politicians who allow it to happen. I do not recommend it for children or the faint of heart. I do recommend it for anyone who can detatch themselves from the shock of severe medical trauma, but still retain their sympathy for the victims. Here are some shocking excerpts from the article:
  • "There's a lot of corruption inside the Iraqi police, says Nicole. "Some people we trained were setting up IEDs [improvised explosive devices]. They are police by day and insurgents by night."

    "You're saying that we are inadvertently training the insurgents?" I ask.

    "Correct, correct," she says.


  • Bolles shows me a collection of photos he took of wounded patients in Iraqi hospitals. The majority of them are horribly disfigured by various types of explosions. After viewing several photos, I begin to sense something missing but can't quite put my finger on it. One picture shows a boy with a missing arm, another a woman in severe distress over the burns covering her body. Then it hits me. There aren't any lines going into the patients. No IVs, no oxygen, no catheters. There aren't any of the usual monitors in the background. The patients are lying in bed, with little more than a sheet and pillow.

  • At the beginning of the Iraq occupation, the Department of Defense sent Burkle to run the country's Ministry of Health; he had previously headed up a trauma center during the first Gulf War and for more than 20 years has led recovery efforts in war-torn areas from Somalia to northern Iraq. Burkle proposed a plan that included establishing a health-surveillance system, decentralizing health care, and ensuring medical services for the large number of demobilized Iraqi soldiers — since, as previous wars have shown, neglected soldiers will keep on fighting. The Bush Administration replaced him after two weeks, claiming it wanted a "loyalist" in the position, Burkle says.

    "The Bush Administration violated every single tenet that has been known in humanitarian circles for decades," Burkle says.


  • Before the CPA [the Coalition Provisional Authority, a temporary government in Iraq that was established by the United States] dissolved in 2004, it issued a summary of its accomplishments, stating that "the entire country is at prewar capabilities for providing health care." Every indication points to the contrary. Iraq's infant mortality rate increased 37 percent after the 2003 invasion. "It is now among hte very worst countries, along with Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Afghanistan," says Burkle, whereas it used to be one of the best in the Middle East. One in eight iraqi children perish before their fifth birthday, according to a report by Save the Children.

    Hospitals operate without X-ray machines, ventilators, or ambulances to meet patient demand. The International Committee of the Red Cross issued a recent report stating, "The humanitarian situation is steadily worsening, and it is affecting, directly or indirectly, all Iraqis . . . The plight of Iraqi civilians is a daily reminder of the fact that there has long been a failure to respect their lives and dignity."
These are just four of the highlights from this article that I wanted attention directed to. I'm not really sure how to feel about this. A part of me feels righteous, that we should be over there trying to establish a stable and non-corrupt government in the country so these people can get proper health care, but a larger part of me feels indignant. How can we ensure an uncorrupted government in a country split between three warring factions when we can't even establish an uncorrupted government in our own world superpower? Maybe we are truly fighting a losing battle with people who don't care if they kill and don't care if they die, and it's proven we can't even trust the people we want to lead the country once stability is introduced.

One thing I know we can't trust, though, is Bush. Whenever he says that the war is going great, and the Iraqis are better off now than they ever were, the only thing we can believe about his message is that he's lying. The Iraqis aren't better off now. If anything they're worse. They have to consider themselves fortunate if they are doing as well as they did during Saddam Hussein's rule.

I started this article with cynicism and enthusiasm, but by the time I was finished, I had to calm my nerves and detatch my empathy in order to just function properly. I invite you all to sit down and read the whole thing, because I guarantee you that you will be shocked and appalled. You can read it in its entirety on Discover magazine,
here, but if that eventually defaults to subscriber archives, I took the liberty of mirroring it, here.

"I recon that human beings should be more humble and realize that life is really delicate and really precious, and it makes me wonder why, in 2003, we could have a war. It just blows my mind that adult human beings can still go, 'We've run out of ideas; we'll have a war.' And this is the kind of shit that really makes me angry, and it makes you angry too. Then that is why I'm saying I'm not mad at you, I'm mad at the thing that keeps us from having way too much fun. " — Henry Rollins, Talk Is Cheap, Volume 3

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