Iraq is quickly sliding down the order of news stories on our TVs and front pages - the fate of the Iraqi people is already largely veiled in silence. While the media focus switches to the spread of SARS, Iraqi children are being killed by a deadly outbreak of diarrhoea and other infections, Dan Beaulieu writes in an Agence France-Presse report ('Iraqi children die quietly as infections spread', www.reliefweb.int , April 23, 2003).
Illnesses are being caused by a lethal combination of water contamination, electricity blackouts causing food to spoil, tonnes of garbage piled up in the streets and open sewage. Doctor Ahmed Abdul Fattah of Al-Iskan hospital in the west of Baghdad says:
"In the month before the war, we were already having about 75 deaths of children suffering from diarrhoea and chest infections. We're expecting more this month."
With the weather getting hotter, infections are spreading rapidly, and looted hospitals are short of medicines and supplies. Many children are made extremely vulnerable by the fact that they were malnourished even before the war. Responsibility for this pre-war suffering has been conveniently placed at the door of the Iraqi regime by politicians and media, although not by UNICEF, aid agencies and others in the know, who point the finger closer to home. Doctors and UNICEF are concerned the outbreak of infections will worsen:
"Unfortunately, we can expect many more young children to die rapidly," said UNICEF's chief officer in Baghdad, George Hatim.