Letter to the Editor, New Zealand Medical Journal.
(10 July 1998 p.259)
11 May 1998
Editorials in the New England Journal of Medicine, the Lancet, and British Medical Journal over the past year have drawn attention to the grave effects of UN sanctions on health and health care in Iraq. These commentaries challenge both doctors and the bodies that represent them to oppose the current sanctions on the basis that they are endangering seriously the health of Iraqis. A group of New Zealand doctors has responded to this challenge by forming the Iraq Sanctions Medical Alert Group ISMAG to be launched on 15 May 1998. The group aims to raise funds for medical and humanitarian aid to Iraq, raise the profile of the health effects of sanctions, and lobby the NZ government to reconsider its position on the sanctions in their current form.
The devastating effects of the sanctions on the health of the people of Iraq are beyond dispute. They have been documented by visiting health professionals, , and such august bodies as the WHO, UNICEF and the UN itself have confirmed that over 1 million people have died as a result of sanctions. The situation is particularly grim for children over 4500 children under the age of 5 are dying each month from hunger and disease. The World Medical Association is renewing the call for medicines and foods to be excluded from economic sanctions.
While opinions vary as to who exactly is to blame for the continuing sanctions, ISMAG believes that apportioning blame misses the point from a health and humanitarian perspective. After nearly eight years, the UN sanctions have not achieved their original aim to divest Iraq of the potential for building and deploying weapons of mass destruction. Ironically, sanctions themselves have become such a weapon. Leon Eisenburg's description of sanctions in the New England Journal of Medicine as "a war against public health" is highly appropriate. ISMAG considers the end to be desirable, but the current means are unacceptable and incompatible with the overall purpose of the UN.
Doctors have mobilised against the enormous potential threat that nuclear weapons present to health. The effects on health presented by sanctions on Iraq are real and vast. Tony Delamothe in the BMJ concludes "Neither individually nor collectively can doctors let themselves off the hook, however messy the issues". We urge doctors to inform themselves about the situation in Iraq, support ISMAG's work and encourage their professional organisations to pressure the government to review its support for the sanctions.
Dr Ashley Bloomfield
For ISMAG Steering Group
1. Eisenburg L. The sleep of reason produces monsters human costs of economic sanctions. Editorial. New Engl J Med 1997; 336: . (April 24)
2. Anonymous. Medical advocacy for the oppressed. Editorial. Lancet 1998; 351:
3. Delamothe T. Embargoes that endanger health. Editorial. BMJ 1997; 315:1393-4.
4. Appleyard WJ. WMA wants medicines and foods to be excluded from economic sanctions (letter). Brit Med J 1998; 316:76.
5. Ascherio A, Chase R, Cote T et al. Effect of the gulf war on infant and child mortality in Iraq. N Engl J Med 1993; 327:931-6.
6. Garfield R, Zaidi S, Lennock J. Medical care in Iraq after six years of sanctions. Personal view. BMJ 1997; 315:1474-5.
Iraq Sanctions Medical Alert Group
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