June 16, 2005 – Doctors in Iraq say a shortage of medicines combined with poor living conditions in the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion has caused an alarming increase in the number of tuberculosis cases in the southeastern city of Amarah.
Doctors say TB had been largely under control in Iraq for the past 50 years but is now making a comeback due to widespread poverty, large amounts of dust in the air and a lack of health awareness programs and medicines. The number of cases in Amarah, located about 240 miles southeast of Baghdad, has now reached 400, according to Iraqi health officials.
"The spread of TB after more than 50 years is something worrying," Doctor Hameed Jassim told IRIN News. "The total of 400 cases is a huge number in relation to the population of Amarah and the number is increasing daily."
The most common TB drugs are not widely available in public health facilities in Iraq, forcing many patients to either rely on expensive private pharmacies or go without treatment.
"The government is not improving the health system and our lives are worsening. The treatment can be found only in private pharmacies that suck our blood due to high prices and I donâ€™t have money," Salim Muhammed, a TB patient in Amarah, told IRIN News.
Two decades ago, efforts by the World Health Organization and Iraqâ€™s Ministry of Health had significantly reduced the spread of the disease, from affecting 20 percent of the population down to 2 percent. Much of that progress has been undone since 2003, according to Iraqi doctors and a recent United Nations survey of living conditions in the country.