A Johns Hopkins physician who toured Iraqi hospitals only days before the outbreak of fighting said yesterday that he saw widespread shortages of vaccines, drugs and milk products and called for international aid to civilians suffering the miseries of war.
Dr. Carl Taylor, an emeritus professor at the School of Hygiene and Public Health, said five months of sanctions already had deprived hospitals of the drugs and medical equipment they needed to treat curable diseases such as pneumonia.
During tours of three Baghdad hospitals, he said, he saw children deprived of antibiotics for pneumonia, a malnourished infant who could not get any milk products, a young leukemia patient sent home because the hospital ran out of the chemotherapy drug and a resurgence of polio because of scarce vaccines.
He said the blockade effectively kept medical supplies and milk products from Iraqi ports, despite the United Nations' exemption for humanitarian aid. Besides the drug shortages, he said, hospitals ran out of the tubes needed for intravenous feedings -- forcing some doctors to use IV equipment designed for adults on children.
Aerial assaults on Iraq, he said, will cause thousands of civilian casualties and stretch medical supplies further -- creating a tide of human misery that is being overlooked here amid confidence that the allied forces will prevail.
"I am appalled by the use . . . of the term 'surgical strikes,' " Dr. Taylor said, arguing that thousands of civilians would get killed despite the intent to target only military installations. He predicted that civilians could suffer six times as many casualties as military personnel.
Dr. Taylor and a Boston physician, Dr. Jonathan Fine, toured the
Iraqi hospitals on Jan. 12-14, leaving Baghdad only hours before the midnight deadline for an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.
They went there to study medical conditions for Physicians for Human Rights, an organization that inspects medical conditions in countries touched by war or rights abuses. In the past, the group has called attention to such abuses as Iraq's use of poison gas on Kurdish civilians living in the northern part of the country.
Dr. Fine is the executive director of the group, which is based in Somerville, Mass.
Dr. Taylor said that his comments, made yesterday to 200 students and teachers in a packed auditorium at Hopkins, reflected his own observations but that the organization would issue a report in a few weeks representing the entire membership.
"The main hope in this country is on having a quick war," Dr. Taylor said. "I don't think we will. I think there are too many Iraqis out there looking for martyrdom."
In the days leading up to war, he said, the Baghdad streets were per
vaded by an eerie sense of normality. "These people were very clearly in a state of disbelief, as though they had already accepted the fact they were going to be victims of war. Their greatest feeling of security came from a sense of fatalism -- that whatever happens is Allah's will. . . . There is no greater pride than what comes from being a martyr."
How ever long the war, he said, the allied nations along with the International Red Cross and the United Nations Children's Fund should prepare to aid the thousands of civilians who inevitably will be injured in the cross-fire.
He said Americans who "demonize" President Saddam Hussein should be careful not to allow their wrath to spill over to the children of Iraq, whose ranks have swollen in a postwar baby boom that followed the end of the Iran-Iraq war. Half of the 18 million people living in Iraq are children under age 16.
"There's great pride here because we evaluate the results [of war] in terms of only our own military casualties," Dr. Taylor said. "I find that kind of attitude a moral outrage because my deepest feeling at the present time is that we all know a war has as its victims women and children."