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Iraq needs up to $8 billion to revive neglected health sector

Iraq's neglected health system needs up to eight billion dollars over the next four years for reconstruction, the deputy health minister said. The U.S. pledged $786 million in 2004 to build clinics, repair neglected hospitals and buy modern medical equipment.

But some 25 percent of the money - which is fast running out - was spent on security as a bloody insurgency that emerged after the March 2003 US-led invasion targeted the projects, a U.S. health official said.

Asked in an interview how much money Iraq required to restore its health care system, which suffered decades of neglect under Saddam Hussein, Saffar said: "Over the next four years, we need seven to eight billion dollars just for reconstruction. This does not include the operational budget."

He warned, however, that Iraqi coffers alone were incapable of funding such an investment. "We are looking here and there for donations from the international community." Washington alone pledged to build and equip 150 primary healthcare centers to provide basic family doctor help to people at a community level.

But the number was cut to 142 because so much cash was spent on security, the U.S. health official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The clinics were all due to be finished by mid-2006 but sources on the ground say this is now an unrealistic goal, estimating that it will take at least until the end of the year if not longer.

The U.S. is also renovating 19 of Iraq's dilapidated hospitals.

Only one has been restored to date in the holy Shiite city of Najaf, but it was later damaged in an attack and is again under repair, he said.

The rest of the hospitals are due to be finished within six to eight months.

As for some $75 million earmarked for medical supplies the money is expected to be spent by April.

Saffar said Washington had been a generous donor.

But he regretted the money was initially contracted to U.S. rather than Iraqi firms because he said a lot of it vanished on overheads, other administrative matters, and security.

The main target now is to ensure the projects are completed, said Saffar.

"We have to rescue the whole of the program with limited resources," he said.

Key objectives would be to agree on policies to restore the health sector - both its physical structure as well as the quality and training of nurses and doctors, said Saffar.

Beirut,01 16 2006
Redaction
The Daily Star
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