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Medical aid agency operating in Umm Qasr

The first aid agency to enter the southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr has visited the hospital there for the second time, IRIN learnt on Thursday.

The International Medical Corps (IMC) sent an assessment team to Umm Qasr’s only hospital on Tuesday. This followed the partial opening to aid agencies of the border from Kuwait, announced by the Humanitarian Operations Centre (HOC) established by the US and Government of Kuwait joint agency set up by the US and Kuwaiti governments.

Rabih Torbay, IMC’s vice-president for international relief and development, headed the team which visited the hospital on Tuesday, and said there were obvious needs they were helping with. Speaking to IRIN on his way back into Iraq from Kuwait on Thursday, Torbay said it was good to finally get into the country and help the people. Thursday’s team would include an experienced conflict specialist, Dr Jeffrey Colyer, as well as a physician and plastic surgeon, who would assess some of the hospital’s patients.

Among them is a 60-year-old man with serious tissue and muscle wounds to his thigh, received after getting caught up in fighting near the southern city of Basrah. Torbay said the man might need skin grafts, and Colyer would assess whether he could undergo surgery at Umm Qasr or be transferred elsewhere. IMC would also be assessing a five-year-old girl who had been sick for a year and whose condition Torbay said was very serious.

Torbay said the hospital’s three doctors and 45 nurses were doing a good job under difficult circumstances. IMC’s team was taking in antibiotics and other basic drugs for the hospital, as well as high-protein biscuits from the United Nations Children’s Fund for malnourished children. It would also carry out another assessment of the hospital’s needs and hoped to return to Umm Qasr with further supplies on Friday or Saturday, and perhaps stay for several days.

Torbay said getting into Umm Qasr was a positive start, but IMC was keen to broaden its work, and he hoped to gain access to Basrah within several days, depending on the security situation.

IMC’s director of communications, Leslie Thurman, told IRIN from Los Angeles that it was exciting to finally get into Iraq and be able to offer help. She said IMC was building up its staff numbers in the region and would bring them into Iraq as areas opened up. “A lot of it has been a waiting game,” she said.

Meanwhile, other aid agencies are also preparing to enter southern Iraq. Save The Children's communications and press officer in Kuwait, Nicole Amoroso, told IRIN from Kuwait City that her organisation would be conducting a security assessment in the next few days to gauge whether its staff could work in southern Iraq. It currently had a six-member team in Kuwait, and hoped to have another 10 health and food professionals arriving over the next week.

Amoroso said waiting in Kuwait for access to Iraq was very frustrating. “The humanitarian need of children was extreme before the war even broke out, so now that we have a conflict, that situation is only going to be that much worse.”

She stressed that organisations such as Save the Children would be operating entirely independently and working to their own mandates. She said there was a risk that Iraqi people would see aid organisations as an arm of the military when the reality was that they were completely impartial and independent of the coalition forces. “We rely on them for safe access, but that’s where the relationship ends.”

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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