BAGHDAD - The US overseer in Iraq was forced to admit that the coalition has failed to provide proper funding for the country's health system, after coming under a barrage of criticism here from top doctors.
Iraq's healthcare system, once among the best in the Middle East, has been brought to its knees by chronic underfunding by former leader Saddam Hussein and crippling UN sanctions imposed after his invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
US overseer Paul Bremer said the US-led coalition upped the health budget from 13 million dollars in 2002 to half a billion dollars in 2003, but it was not enough to pacify hundreds of doctors at a Baghdad medical conference.
"It's not nearly enough to cover the needs in the healthcare field," Bremer said, responding to those who branded Iraq's healthcare as "appalling" after more than a decade of international isolation.
The health ministry puts the infant mortality rate at 1.8 in 10, and that of mortality among children under the age of five at 1.31 in 10.
In the 11 months since the US-led invasion to remove Saddam, Iraq's health infrastructure has only recovered to its pre-war level.
Although the country's 240 public hospitals and 95 percent of the country's private clinics reopened last year, there are still enormous shortages of nurses, equipment, drugs and beds across the country.
Washington has spent hundreds of million of dollars on medical equipment and increased pharmaceuticals from 300 tonnes to more than 12,000 tonnes since the war, Bremer said.
When pressed repeatedly about drug shortages, Bremer insisted that only applied to "isolated cases".
Washington has allocated three-quarters of a billion dollars for Iraqi healthcare from a supplemental budget approved by Congress, but Bremer looked to a donors' meeting in Abu Dhabi next month to raise more cash from elsewhere.
At a similiar conference in October, 73 nations pledged 33 billion dollars in reconstruction money for the war-torn country.
Bremer said that Iraqi oil exports would generate four to five billion dollars in excess of government expenses, which would be distributed by the first post-occupation administration for 2005.
"This will be a difficult year ... by next year Iraq should be back in surplus," he told hundreds of doctors who gathered for the conference.
© 2004 AFP