Shakir Abbas / Azzaman – 2005-08-14 00:52:05
(August 12, 2005) — Tuberculosis (TB) cases have soared in the country since the US-led invasion more than two years ago, Iraqi doctors say. The increase in cases is mainly due to shortages of medicine and poor health conditions, they say.
There are currently 2,668 registered TB patients only in Baghdad, according to Dr. Dhafer Salman head of the Health Ministry’s Department for Chest and Respiratory Diseases. He said there were 10,498 registered TB cases in the whole country while the number was 4,753 in 1990.
The country’s once comprehensive health service with efficient infrastructure has all but collapsed in the 1990s due to UN trade sanctions which the US strongly supported and forcefully maintained.
Conditions have not improved since the US invaded the country with hospitals and Primary Health Care centers suffering from shortages of medicine, qualified personnel and poor conditions.
Before the sanctions and the US invasion, Iraqi population enjoyed the benefits of one of the better health cares systems in the entire Middle East. The system kept tuberculosis under control for nearly 50 years only to see it spreading once again in the aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion.
A survey on living conditions, released by the UN and the Iraqi government in May, stressed that health and living standards have seriously deteriorated over the past two years with poor access to clean water and adequate healthcare.
Salman said his department has tried to import all the drugs necessary for the treatment of the diseases, but he admitted his department faced an uphill task in combating Tuberculosis.
The registered cases do no represent the reality as many patients fail to report to hospitals due to the stigma of shame and embarrassment the disease brings to those afflicted. The Arabic word for TB (Sil) is pejorative and even if diagnosed many patients would attempt to hide the true nature of the disease.
TB treatment is expensive and may cost hundreds of dollars, which most patients coming from poor districts in Baghdad and other provinces cannot afford. Patients visiting public health clinics receive free diagnosis and treatment but not all the drugs used in TB treatment are available at public health pharmacies.
TB is a chronic disease and patients need long-term care and treatment which may continue for two years, said Salman. To stem the spread of TB, the Health Ministry has opened a new hospital in Baghdad to treat patients from across the country. The hospital’s director, DR. Sami Wasfi said outpatient clinics have began offering services to visitors from Baghdad and other provinces.
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