Archive for Sunday, June 20, 2004

Boy’s death typifies health care in Iraq

June 20, 2004

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— A 3-month old Iraqi baby who prompted an outpouring of sympathy around the world after he was photographed lying emaciated in an undersupplied Iraqi hospital has died, doctors said Saturday.

Ali Mohammed Jabbar -- affectionately known as Baby Ali -- died of septicemia, a bacterial blood infection easily treated if more advanced medical care had been available, said Dr. Haidar Hadi of Baghdad's General Teaching Hospital for Children.

"The chance of survival would have been much, much higher if he were in a European hospital," Hadi said. "He most probably would have survived."

Baby Ali's suffering illustrated the plight of Iraq's children, who are still lacking proper medical care after more than a year of U.S. military occupation.

The hospital where Baby Ali was treated had no proper equipment to take blood and stool samples needed to pinpoint the type of diarrhea that afflicted him. Without that precision, doctors were unable to prescribe the right antibiotics for him.

"We feel so sorry to lose a patient for something considered in an ideal situation, a simple disease," Hadi said.

Even if they had the diagnosis, such medicine is rarely available here for someone so young and so small. When Ali arrived at the hospital in mid-May, he weighed 7.72 pounds.

Ali died June 8, according to hospital records.

A June 4 story by The Associated Press -- accompanied by photographs -- detailed the dismal condition of the hospital, which lacks some of the most rudimentary medical supplies, and the plight of baby Ali. The story drew a huge response, particularly in Germany, where pharmacies offered to send medicine to the hospital and people said they were willing to help Ali get medical treatment in Europe.

Three-month-old Iraqi boy Ali Mohammed Jabbar cries during
treatment for diarrhea in the General Teaching Hospital for
Children in Baghdad, Iraq, in this June 4 photo. Ali, who prompted
an outpouring of sympathy around the world after he was
photographed in the undersupplied Iraqi hospital, has died, doctors
said Saturday.

Three-month-old Iraqi boy Ali Mohammed Jabbar cries during treatment for diarrhea in the General Teaching Hospital for Children in Baghdad, Iraq, in this June 4 photo. Ali, who prompted an outpouring of sympathy around the world after he was photographed in the undersupplied Iraqi hospital, has died, doctors said Saturday.

But Iraq's chaotic security situation complicates the organization of such efforts, which take time and coordination with overwhelmed local authorities. With so many in need and so few resources available, helping a single child is not always possible, doctors said.

Even the best intentions often fail. Most hospital deaths -- between 15 and 20 a month -- are from secondary infection, mainly because of the unsanitary hospital conditions.

"We don't have antibiotics to treat infections," Hadi said. "We have really many, many problems. We are working in situations no one can imagine."

Doctors said the hospital had been visited by many good-intentioned groups that wrote down lists of needed medicine and supplies. But that's as far as things have gone so far.

"All these children need help," said David Tarantino, a coalition medical adviser to the Iraqi Health Ministry as he pointed to a pile of files. "If not treated, they will die."

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