Iraqi docs' day of work

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Posted by Sadie from ? ( on Monday, June 09, 2003 at 2:10PM :

Grenades, guns, death threats all in an Iraqi doctor's day of work, says WHO
Report, United Nations News Center

5 June 2003

4 June 2003 -- A patient pursued by gun-toting assailants, a doctor threatened with death if a relative dies, hand grenade juggling during visitors' hours - such are the daily challenges faced by hospital staff in Basra, Iraq's second city, according to the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO).

"What we need is order, and not to feel threatened the minute we step into the hospital," a distinguished surgeon and professor at the Basra teaching hospital told WHO spokesperson Fadela Chaib.

Giving her account today of the problems medical staff face providing health care in the southern city, Ms. Chaib quoted the doctor as saying that in his 20 years' experience this was the first time he and colleagues had decided to carry out only emergency surgery. "If a patient's life is really in danger because he has been shot, stabbed or has a strangulated hernia, then I operate, otherwise I don't," he said.

"The twenty or so doctors and nurses I spoke to all had similar stories to tell," Ms. Chaib said. "Tawra, a nurse, had been threatened with a hand grenade for trying to restore some sort of order during visiting hours. Professor Hussam described a vendetta that was carried out in a hospital room in his department. A patient was pursued by his assailants into the room where, in front of the doctors, he was shot twice at point-blank range. When they found out that he had survived, his assailants returned that same evening to finish him off."

While she was talking to a doctor and nurses at Basra General Hospital, a noisy group, 20-strong, arrived carrying an unconscious old lady on a stretcher. "They pushed open the doctor's door and demanded that he examine her," Ms. Chaib said. "The doctor replied that he had already seen her and signed her discharge note. The lady's relatives lost their tempers, started shouting, jostled the doctor and overturned the scant furniture in the office. 'If anything happens to her we swear we'll be back to kill you and we'll put a bomb in the hospital,' they yelled."

Ms. Chaib said that under these conditions some doctors come for just a few hours, while others don't come at all. Some, like two young surgeons, have taken up contracts completely outside their field with a non-government organization. "We studied for 12 long years, but nothing justifies dying because we lose a patient on the operating table, especially in working conditions as precarious as those in Basra," she quoted one of them as saying.

-- Sadie
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