Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Surge

Senator McCain expects to be elected president because he supported The Surge™, and it's been a great success. I guess we all have different ideas of what constitutes success.

While we ponder whether growing violence throughout the country (including continuing deaths and injuries of U.S. troops), political disintegration and now a border war between Turkey and Kurdistan constitute success, I want to draw your attention to another surge in Iraq, specifically an outbreak of measles in Anbar province -- you know, the place where we have already won, although oddly a Marine was killed there yesterday in combat? UNICEF today reported a measles outbreak there.

For those of us in the wealthy countries, measles is pretty much history, due to widespread vaccination. When I was a child, it was generally nothing more than a nuisance. But it can occasionally cause permanent disability or death, and children who are malnourished are at much higher risk. Well, while we've been busy sending over tens of thousands more troops and winning the war:

According to the United Nations Children’s Agency (UNICEF), about one in 10 children under five in Iraq are underweight and one in five are short for their age.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg, according to Claire Hajaj, Communication Officer at UNICEF Iraq Support Centre in Amman (ISCA). . . .

“Many Iraqi children may also be suffering from ‘hidden hunger’ - deficiencies in critical vitamins and minerals that are the building blocks for children’s physical and intellectual development,” Hajaj said. “These deficiencies are hard to measure, but they make children much more vulnerable to illness and less likely to thrive at school.”

But with insecurity forcing the closure of many heath outreach centres, and hospitals and clinics lacking medicines and specialists, Iraq’s population is increasingly being cut off from access to proper health care, say officials at UNICEF and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Children in the most restive parts of the country – such as Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala, Missan and Basra provinces - are less likely to receive critical preventative health care.

Such as measles vaccination, maybe? The WHO recently did a report on the measles vaccination campaign in Iraq. (PDF) It turns out that in "Anbar, the measles surveillance system is not working. Missan only 5 cases were notified, none was properly investigated. Babil, Muthana, Thi-Qar and Diala with some effort the measles surveillance can reach the required standard."

Now, if you're spending $275 million a day to have guys drive around and get blown up, you figure you might be able to shake loose a couple of million bucks a month or so to rebuild the public health system and get those kids vaccinated. But that would not be the Christian thing to do.

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