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Conditions in Basra's main hospital still dire

[Iraq] Basra Hospital.
Tahsin Ahmad tends to his brother Amir (Mike White )

His eyes are open, but nobody knows what he really sees. What they do know is that what he has seen is horrific. Sixteen-year-old Amir Ahmad lies semiconscious in a bed at Basra Teaching Hospital, a huge wound across his chest, a tube running from it.

Two weeks ago, Amir was walking near the market by his home in Al-Amarah, 180 km from Iraq's main southern city of Basra, when a bomb landed, killing several people and injuring many others, according to his brother, Tahsin Ahmad. Speaking from beside Amir's bed, Tahsin said his brother had been in a virtual coma ever since the incident. He flicks flies off Amir's face, as he squirts orange juice into his mouth using a syringe.

The doctors say he has a chance of surviving, but his prospects would be brighter if he could be shifted to a better hospital. "We need hope to come to this hospital," says Tahsin. "We need him to go to Kuwait."

But the reality is that not every child victim of war injuries will be as lucky as the celebrated few who have made it to Kuwaiti hospitals. Meanwhile, Basra's main hospital is still functioning, able to provide some treatment and care for patients, and may have saved Amir's life.

Dr Dahham Falih al-Musa, a senior house officer at the hospital, said in Basra that war injured were still coming in from outlying regions. Until now, many people had been unable to travel, so some seriously injured cases had remained in their remote villages with little or no care. That morning, Al-Musa said he had seen a man whose leg had been amputated on 23 March, more than three weeks ago, but who had been unable to travel to Basra until now.

One of the main worries for the hospital is the continuing lack of sufficient clean water. Despite deliveries from organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the hospital has been forced to draw untreated water from the adjacent Shatt al-Arab river. "But either I use it or I don't have water," Al-Musa said.

The lack of water in the city had brought about a sharp rise in cases of diarrhoea and dysentery, he said. But he stressed that the best route towards restoring the supply of clean water and reliable electric power was via a restoration of security. The violence, looting and disorder following the capture by British troops of Iraq's second-largest city prompted many key water and power workers to abandon their jobs and stay at home with their families.

"If there was no more stealing, killing, shooting or bullets, people would go back to their companies and work, and water and electricity would be restored. Then things will get better. Will the coalition forces let our people go to work again? This is the question," said Al-Musa.

Meanwhile, the shooting persists. Abd al-Hassan Wadid, wearing a bloodstained tee shirt, is wiping blood from his brother Firaz's face, using a rag. Firaz had been shot in the cheek that morning in unclear circumstances, but the result was clear: yet another death or disfigurement in a country where guns have ruled for decades.

The hospital's manager, Dr Akram Abid Hasan, lost 10 family members when a bomb or missile struck his home, including two sons, two daughters, his mother, brother and a sister. Two other senior doctors at the hospital have also lost children and wives in the war. But Al-Musa said there was a great team spirit among the medical staff, and even during the height of the fighting, the hospital had remained operational.

In the bed next to Amir lies 12-year-old Abd al-Jabbar, his arm and chest badly injured when his home near Basra was hit by artillery fire, and collapsed. If either of the boys could stand up, he would see the wonderful view from the hospital window across the Shatt al-Arab River and the sweeping city of Basra. But, for the moment, their minds are filled only with horrific visions of war.


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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