The entire project has been funded with a total cost of QAR 512,872.
Qatar Red Crescent Society (QRCS) has sent a team of volunteer medical professionals to Iraqi Kurdistan to treat children who suffer from congenital heart defects.
As part of a fresh medical mission that falls under the ‘Little Hearts’ initiative, QRCS will conduct cardiac catheterisation procedures over the course of five days for 70 children who suffer from congenital heart defects.
The humanitarian project will be conducted at the Specialised Cardiology Hospital in Erbil and is being carried out in collaboration with the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS). The entire project has been funded with a total cost of QAR 512,872.
The team consisted of Dr Hisham Al-Salous, who serves as the Cardiac Catheterisation Consultant at Sidra Medicine, Dr Bahaa Al-Din Jumaa, the Pediatric Critical Care Consultant at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), and Alaa Al-Din Mohamed, the Senior Cardiac Catheterisation Technician at Sidra Medicine.
The doctors will carry out cardiac catheterisations to provide treatment for children of displaced Iraqis, Syrian refugees, and local families from the host community as part of their efforts to support the health sector in Iraq.
All necessary equipment and supplies have been provided free of charge to ease the financial burden on less privileged families who cannot afford medical care, QRCS noted.
One of the project’s objectives is to enhance the skills of local medical professionals. This will be achieved by offering them training and collaborating with the expert delegation from Qatar.
QRCS has a longstanding history of executing health projects in Iraq, dating back to 2013. These projects include medical convoys specialising in cardiac catheterisation for children, support for health facilities, and initiatives for controlling COVID-19.
Presently, there is an ongoing project dedicated to treating eye diseases and performing eye surgeries, which, in total, have amounted to a cost of $1,567,675.
US legacy in Iraq
Congenital heart defects are common in Iraq, where a decades long US-led invasion led to an increase in such conditions.
In 2010, a study revealed that the occurrence of heart defects in Fallujah was 13 times higher than in Europe, and the rate of birth defects related to the nervous system was 33 times higher.
Separately, in March 2013 Dr Samira Alani, a pediatric specialist at Fallujah General Hospital, told Al Jazeera that the occurrence rates of congenital malformations were approximately 14%, though she said under-reporting of the issue could mean the statistics are higher.
Dr Alani’s recorded cases of birth defects indicate a rate exceeding 14 times that experienced in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Meanwhile, according to research published in the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, there exists a significant correlation between military operations within the country and a notable rise in the occurrences of birth defects and miscarriages.
Dubbed the ‘Metal Contamination and the Surge of Congenital Birth Defects in Iraqi Cities,’ paper, the research showed how increased rates of miscarriages, elevated levels of lead and mercury contamination, and the surge in birth defects, ranging from congenital heart issues to brain dysfunctions and limb malformations, were all attributed to the use of US and UK ammunition.
Fallujah, located approximately 40 miles west of Baghdad, was the focal point of these concerning health risks. The city witnessed initial invasion by US Marines in the spring of 2004, followed by another invasion seven months later, during which some of the most potent artillery in the US arsenal, including phosphorus shells, was put to use.
Separately, after more than fifteen years since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, a recent study in 2019 uncovered disturbing instances of babies being born with horrifying birth defects linked to the presence of the American military in the region at the time.
The report, conducted by a group of independent medical researchers and published in the journal Environmental Pollution, focused on congenital anomalies observed in Iraqi infants born in close proximity to Tallil Air Base, a facility operated by the US-led foreign military coalition.
The study revealed a significant correlation between babies exhibiting severe birth defects, such as neurological issues, congenital heart disease, and paralysed or missing limbs, and higher levels of a radioactive compound called thorium detected in their bodies.
“We collected hair samples, deciduous [baby] teeth, and bone marrow from subjects living in proximity to the base,” said Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, one of the study’s lead researchers. “In all three tissues we see the same trend: higher levels of thorium.”
Savabieasfahani, an author of studies focusing on the radioactive effects of the US military’s presence in Iraq over several years, affirms that the recent discoveries add to a mounting body of evidence regarding the grave and lasting health consequences endured by Iraqi civilians due to US military operations.
“The closer that you live to a US military base in Iraq,” she said, adding that the “the higher the thorium in your body and the more likely you are to suffer serious congenital deformities and birth defects.”