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Iraq: child survival still a distant dream

It has been ten years since Iraq’s current conflict began with the invasion of March 2003.

Despite having the seventh largest oil reserves in the world and the fertile lands of ancient Mesopotamia, peace has eluded the country over the past three decades.

In the 1960s, Iraq was  one of the world’s fastest growing economies. In the 70s, Iraqi health policies and universal access to healthcare were considered best practice in the region.

Today, Iraq is  a middle income country with per capita income at par with the emerging economies of Latin America and South East Asia.

One quarter below the poverty line

The benefits have not trickled down to a large section of society and an increasing number of Iraqis – around 7 million or one quarter of the total population – live below the poverty line, on less than $2 a day.

Perpetual conflict and instability has slowed down, if not reversed, what little progress was made on human development  over the past couple of decades.

Little change in child mortality rate

Today, the rate of children dying before their first birthday is about the same as it was in 1989.

Iraq has the second highest under-five mortality rate in the Middle East after Yemen, and insufficient progress has been made on reducing maternal and under-five deaths over the past decade.

A joint survey by the Iraqi Ministry of Health and UNICEF last December reported that there has been ‘little improvement’ in reducing under-five deaths over the past 15 years.

Health worker crisis

According to recent reports, Iraq’s health worker crisis has worsened over the past ten years, and about 60% of medical doctors have emigrated, which has further reduced access to even the basic health care services in the country, especially for children under five and expectant mothers.

Child mortality in Iraq is compounded by the fact that only about a quarter of children are exclusively breastfed and nearly 10% of children are undernourished.

Less than half of children under two years of age receive the recommended routine immunisations, and about a quarter of the children under five receive basic treatments such as oral rehydration salts for diarrhoea.

With the routine immunisation system struggling, newer vaccines are yet to be introduced and consequently, children under five continue to be exposed to illnesses that can be easily prevented.

This month’s themed issue of The Lancet examines the health system challenges in detail, and the prospects of a healthier Iraq in coming years.

Need to support peace and development

The need to support peace and development in Iraq is greater than ever, and it is imperative that the international community helps to deliver the change that was promised ten years ago.

We must help rebuild a stronger health system in Iraq, to ensure that children survive and thrive beyond the initial vulnerable years, and are able to contribute to their country’s development and stability in the longer term.

Save the Children has been working in Iraq since 1991. We work with local partners and authorities in ten governorates to promote and protect children’s rights, with programmes focusing on Health, WASH, Education, Livelihoods, Child Protection and Child Rights Governance.

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