Birth defects are on the rise in Fallujah
Doctors are seeing up to 15 times as many chronic deformities in infants.
Tue, Nov 17 2009 at 1:14 PM
Photo: Getty Images
Doctors are seeing an extraordinary rise in birth defects among babies and children in the city of Fallujah, according to a recent article by the UK’s Guardian.
Birth defects reported by neurologists and obstetricians in the city include a baby born with two heads, as well as babies with multiple tumors and nervous system problems.
According to pediatrician Samira Abdul Ghani, who kept precise records of defects over a three-week period at Fallujah general hospital, an astonishing 37 babies with reported born with anomalies, many of them neural tube defects.
“With neuro-tube defects, their heads are often larger than normal, they can have deficiencies in hearts and eyes and their lower limbs are often listless. There has been no orderly registration here in the period after the war and we have suffered from that,” said Dr. Abdul Wahid Salah, a neurosurgeon. “But I can say with certainty that we have noticed a sharp rise in malignancy of the blood and this is not a congenital anomaly — it is an acquired disease.”
Fallujah, a former Iraqi battle zone, is the site of two battles in 2004 where U.S. marines and infantry units were engaged in heavy fighting. The first battle was to hold accountable those responsible for the killing of four U.S. citizens that were at the time serving as Blackwater private security contractors.
During the fighting, U.S. soldiers used controversial weaponry like white phosphorus against the enemy. White phosphorus, which is used by the military in various types of ammunition as well as to produce smoke for concealing troop movements and identifying targets, can cause coughing and irritation of the throat and lungs when breathed in, and liver, heart or kidney damage if eaten, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
According to the investigation, doctors in Fallujah are dealing with up to 15 times as many chronic deformities in infants and a spike in early life cancers.
"We are seeing a very significant increase in central nervous system anomalies," said Fallujah general hospital's director and senior specialist, Dr. Ayman Qais. "Before 2003 [the start of the war] I was seeing sporadic numbers of deformities in babies. Now the frequency of deformities has increased dramatically."
As the toll of battle continues to rise, Iraq’s health ministry remains inept and unable to deal with the city’s pressing needs.
As a result, a group of Iraqi and British officials have asked that an independent committee fully investigate the defects and help clean up toxic materials left over from decades of war, though Fallujah’s doctors are reluctant to directly link the chemicals used during fighting to the deformities.
In addition, this week Dr. Bassam Allah, the head of the hospital's children's ward, urged international experts to investigate the cause of the abnormalities by taking soil samples across the battlegrounds.