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Researchers Claim Birth Defects Rising Across Southern & Central Iraq

In the wake of the 2003 attacks on Iraq, the anticipated rise in birth defects has begun, according to IRIN News. After analysing records from public hospitals around the country, researchers from Baghdad University have shown that the long-documented rise in deformities in the southern region of the country has spread to the capital, Baghdad.

According to Dr Nawar Ali, at the University of Baghdad, who works in the newborn babies research department: “There have been 650 cases in total since August 2003 reported in government hospitals - that is a 20 percent increase from the previous regime. Private hospitals were not included in the study, so the number could be higher,” he said.

Dr Ali blamed the rise on polluted groundwater, contaminated with radiation from depleted uranium used in the two Gulf Wars. Other health professionals in Iraq share Ali’s opinion. “In my experiments we have found some cases where the mother or father were suffering from pollution from weapons used in the south and we believe that it is affecting newborn babies in the country,” said Dr Ibraheem al-Jabouri, a scientist at Baghdad University.

The type of deformities found in newborn babies are characterised by multiple fingers, unusually large heads, unilateral lips or no arms or legs. High levels of birth malformations have been reported from the southern region of Iraq since the mid-Nineties, but this is the first report of similar conditions spreading to the capital. Following the first Gulf War, Basra was particularly badly hit; now the phenomenon is moving north from Najaf to Baghdad.

Other contributory factors have been looked at. Dr Lamia’a Amran, a paediatrician at the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) hospital in the capital, told IRIN that inter-marriages were also to blame and that some cases of deformed babies were from poor families in the southern region. “Most of the women who have deformed babies in our hospital are married to relatives and have no idea that a common blood factor can also cause such problems,” said Amran. The IRCS hospital sees at least four cases of deformities every week. During April, 15 cases were reported, according to the hospital spokesman, a number considered high for a short period of time.

However, Amran added that 60 percent of the cases were not related to blood factors, but due to other causes. She explained that after studying family history of couples with deformed babies, they concluded that radiation and pollution were the main causes of the deformity.

But most of the cases reported do not survive for more than a week, doctors said. Nearly 90 percent of such cases at the Central Teaching Hospital for Paediatrics in Baghdad do not survive, according to Wathiq Ibrahim, director of the hospital.

Fatima Hussein, a 34-year-old patient at the hospital, told reporters: “My two children were born with deformities and today I had my third one with the same problem. The doctors say pollution is the cause and now my husband wants to divorce me claiming that I am not capable of bringing healthy children into the world,”

Health officials have asked the Iraqi Government to begin an urgent study into the problem.

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Page last updated: January 28, 2003