Baghdad maternity hospital in need

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Posted by Sadie from ? ( on Monday, June 02, 2003 at 11:41AM :

Baghdad maternity hospital in need of security, water and electricity
Miguel Angel Rodriguez, IFRC

27 May 2003

The windows were blown out while Dr Rasmi Al-Rukabi was signing medical reports. Stunned, he emerged from his office and stumbled over more debris - part of the roof of the corridor had collapsed as a result of the explosion.

The bombs did not hit the Iraqi Red Crescent (IRCS) maternity hospital directly, but the building was damaged nonetheless. Out in the street were 10 unrecognisable bodies. It was 2 April.

For Dr Al-Rukabi, director of the Baghdad hospital, the images from that day remain vivid, as does the fear - a fear that still permeates Baghdad and, he says, directly affects the workings of the city's health system.

"Doctors cannot go to work at night because of the lack of security and the constant robberies at gun point, which have a direct bearing on the care we can provide," Al Rukabi says.

"We are suffering from a lack of security, water and electricity," he says when asked about the needs of the maternity hospital.

The staff of this clinic, comprising more than 20 nurses and 30 doctors, have been working full time for no pay for several weeks. They are being stretched to the limit, yet earn nothing, because there is no money to pay them.

The keep working because of Al Rukabi's single-minded mission to respond to the needs of vulnerable people in the central Baghdad district of Al-Mansur, or indeed wherever they come from, he says.

They are given special discounts, but most of the time they still cannot pay. The needs are so great that the hospital has a very long waiting list. But staff can only cope with around 20 patients every day.

It is an immense struggle. Statistics show that maternal mortality rates have shot up alarmingly in the past few weeks "as a result of the lack of services, medicine, equipment and, above all, personnel," according to Federation health delegate, Miriam Bersholz.

At the IRCS maternity hospital, the situation has been made worse by the looting of much of its medical equipment, such as its ultrasound machines, without which pre-natal complications are impossible to detect and treat.

Now the priority for the Red Cross and Red Crescent are the children. Even before the war, one in eight children died before reaching the age of five. For every 1,000 live births, 131 babies died - the worst statistics in the region.

Now there is the threat of diarrhoea and acute dehydration, which can be life-threatening for children. This, in a country where one third of the population is under the age of 18.

Opened in 1973, the IRCS maternity hospital in al-Mansur rapidly became an important health referral centre for the whole country, as much for the excellence of its staff as for its medical equipment.

Every day, 35 babies were born at this flagship hospital, which employed 100 staff. That was before the war.

-- Sadie
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