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Looting, disorder hit hospitals

Aid agencies say lack of security is bringing a crisis in Iraqi hospitals.
Aid agencies say lack of security is bringing a crisis in Iraqi hospitals.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Hospitals in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities fear warfare and looting will keep frightened workers and sick patients home and block the delivery of urgent medical supplies.

International Committee of the Red Cross official Roland Huguenin-Benjamin told CNN that hospitals have been looted and pointed out that potential patients will not be able to make it to the hospitals to receive treatment "unless some sort of security can be re-established in the city."

"Many hospitals, including lots of other governmental properties, of course, have come under looting. And right now, there are major hospitals that are suffering from attacks, as unbelievable as it may seem, by people who are engaged in looting activities," Huguenin-Benjamin said.

"One of the main problems that the health services are facing," said World Health Organization official Jim Tulloch, "is the shortage of staff. And partly that's because in a situation of total insecurity, people will have to stay home, try to protect their houses, try to protect their families and not be able to go and provide services for patients.

"Just getting to the health services will be more difficult under the current circumstances," said Tulloch, who called the "conditions in hospitals in Baghdad and other cities "really bad" and deteriorating

Insulin-dependent diabetics, people fighting cancer, those being treated for kidney failure and others who need regular medication or treatment can't and won't leave their homes, the agency said.

WHO said that in Baghdad the "Medical City hospital center is reported to be running very short of water, which makes it almost impossible for the hospital to offer effective medical care to the people who need it."

The al Kindi hospital, where many injured have been taken since the war started, is reported to have been looted, WHO said.

"There have been no new deliveries of medicines or medical supplies from outside the country since before the conflict began three weeks ago. The city's already fragile water and electricity infrastructure is coming under extreme pressure and standby generators are being overworked," the agency said.

Tulloch said that health services in Iraq had done a good job stockpiling supplies and had not been reporting shortages. But he said reports of looting at government warehouses have caused great concern and if those supplies are taken, drug shortages could become a problem soon.

WHO was flying in 50 surgical kits to Amman, Jordan, bound for Iraq with "sufficient anesthetics, surgical equipment and medical disposables, such as bandages and syringes, for 5,000 surgical interventions and several days' post-operative care," spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said Wednesday.

The ICRC's Huguenin-Benjamin said "a lot of people are not able to reach hospitals when they need to. We are speaking now of patients with kidney dialysis needs. And they are not able to travel from their residence to where the hospital is where they get their regular treatment, because there are too many people with guns around."

The ICRC resumed its work in Baghdad Thursday after temporarily halting its operations there Wednesday because of "chaotic and unpredictable" conditions.

David Wimhurst, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, said, "the very difficult conditions in which Baghdad hospitals were now operating had been further exacerbated by the breakdown of law and order, which was preventing access to medical facilities by hospital staff and other essential service workers."

He said "health workers, water treatment technicians and generator maintenance crews must be provided safe access to their places of work."

The Jordanian government, meanwhile, told CNN that it plans to establish a hospital in Ramadi, Iraq early next week to help with the overflow of injured in the under equipped Iraqi hospitals. A reconnaissance trip is planned for this weekend to make sure this is possible.

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