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Kuwaiti Health System ‘Destroyed’ : Medicine: A physicians’ survey tells of plunder by Iraqi soldiers, rapes and workers’ executions.

TIMES MEDICAL WRITER

Since Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, soldiers have devastated the nation’s sophisticated health-care system--plundering medical equipment, closing maternity wards and converting hospital wards into living quarters.

Soldiers have removed patients from ambulances and positioned themselves around hospitals, in some instances interviewing each person who entered and turning away some Kuwaitis.

Numerous reports about rapes of female hospital personnel and threats against physicians have led large numbers of doctors and nurses to stay away from work or flee the country.

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Health workers have been arrested and some have been tortured or executed for taking medicines to treat Kuwaiti patients in their homes or for protesting the destruction of medical facilities.

These are some of the conclusions from a report being released today on the deteriorating health-care situation in occupied Kuwait.

“What you have is the dismemberment and destruction of the health-care system of Kuwait,” said Dr. Jonathan Fine, executive director of Physicians for Human Rights in Somerville, Mass., which prepared the study with its affiliate in Denmark. “The system is decimated and has to be rebuilt.”

The 36-page report expands on earlier accounts of health problems in Kuwait since the Aug. 2 invasion. It is meant to focus world attention on the magnitude of the situation.

The study is based on interviews, conducted in December by American and Danish physicians, with 34 doctors and other health professionals from 14 Kuwaiti hospitals and health centers. Those interviewed were in Kuwait at the time of the invasion and the following months. The health workers included Egyptian, Indian, Kuwaiti and U.S. citizens.

Fine said interviews were conducted in New York, Cairo, London and by phone with people presently in Saudi Arabia.

Despite some conflicting testimony and the organization’s inability to travel to Kuwait, “there is little doubt that equipment was systematically taken from the general hospitals and many of the specialty hospitals, and that selected physicians and health-care workers were tortured and in fact murdered,” Fine said.

“There was billeting of Iraqi soldiers in the hospitals as well as taking over parts of hospitals for Iraqi wounded,” he added. “That continues to the present day.”

The report charges that the Iraqi actions “violate fundamental provisions of the Geneva Conventions and international human rights law.”

The group said it had received the names of at least nine physicians and health workers killed by the Iraqi military. It also had testimony from doctors who had treated women reportedly raped by Iraqi soldiers.

Before the invasion, Kuwait had established an elaborate medical system with advanced equipment and medicines, the report said. This included 70 primary-care clinics, six general hospitals--each with 300 to 600 beds--and 13 specialty hospitals in fields such as infectious disease, orthopedics and neurosurgery. About 85% of the physicians and 90% of the nurses were non-Kuwaitis, including many Filipinos and Indians.

Services began to deteriorate soon after the invasion, according to the report. Iraqi soldiers received treatment priority or were the only patients admitted to hospitals.

By mid-October, one hospital that had operated 580 beds before the invasion could care for only 60 patients, the report said. The emergency room remained open, but most Kuwaitis were afraid to use it.

The report reached no conclusions about widely publicized reports that some low-birth-weight infants died after being removed from incubators. It said a number of alleged eyewitnesses provided “contradictory testimony.”

Nevertheless, the report found “a likely excess of infant and neonatal deaths due to a variety of factors.” These included a lack of specialists, an increase in the number of unattended home deliveries, and shortages of equipment and medicines.

Fine said the medical situation has eased somewhat because many civilians left Kuwait after the invasion. In August, there were about 2.1 million people in the country, including about 800,000 Kuwaitis. As of early January, Middle East Watch estimated that approximately 400,000 Kuwaitis were still in Kuwait city and approximately 300,000 non-Kuwaitis, mostly Palestinians and South Asians, remained in Kuwait.

Physicians for Human Rights said it conducts its studies with “strict impartiality.” It has investigated the shortages of medicine and food in Iraq since the United Nations sanctions were imposed along with Iraq’s use of poison gas against its Kurdish population during the Iran-Iraq War.


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