War and health


When I began thinking about this topic and doing my research, I realized that I should be discussing not only about war and health but, more importantly, on the war against the people’s right and access to health.

The two wars against the people’s right and access to health occurred simultaneously during the last decade of the previous century: the war of globalization and the war against “terrorist states,” “rogue states,” “the axis of evil,” and eventually the war on terror. The war on terror did not begin with the World Trade Center attacks in September 11, 2001. If began after the change in the political landscape in Eastern Europe and the USSR and the conception of the Defense Policy Guidelines in 1992 by then Defense Sec. Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, and the 2000 policy paper “Rebuilding America’s Defenses – Strategy, Forces, and Resources for a New Century” of the conservative think tank Project for a New American Century, which, by the way, is comprised of the very same group of people: Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, Jeb Bush, I. Lewis Libby, and Donald Rumsfeld, who became the Defense secretary of Bush Jr.

The change in political landscape in the Eastern bloc during the latter part of the 1980s provided both an opportunity and a challenge to the US. The communist bogey no longer exists while at the same time, it provided the US with the opportunity to use its political and military dominance to push for its own economic interests and agenda. Thus, even as there was no longer any serious challenge to its hegemony, it refused to downscale its military spending. It even increased it by creating a hype about a supposed new specter: Islamic fundamentalism. That is why even before the September 2011 attacks, the US, in its defense policy paper “Rebuilding America’s Defense – Strategy, Forces, and Resources for a New Century,” was already able to underline the principles that would shape its global “defense” policy. The 9-11 attacks merely gave the US the perfect excuse to launch its war on terror.

What were these principles guiding US defense policy and global positioning?

• we need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global responsibilities today and modernize our armed forces for the future;

• we need to strengthen our ties to democratic allies and to challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values;

• we need to promote the cause of political and economic freedom abroad;

• we need to accept responsibility for America’s unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles

Those countries that were included in the list of “terrorist,” “rogue,” or “evil,” states are those that “stridently oppose US presence and influence in their regions” and those that oppose “economic freedom” or the “free market ideology” of globalization.

Globalization, as we experienced it during the last two decades is about “downplaying government intervention” in the economy, of controlling budget deficits, and deep cuts in government social spending. It is, according to economist Joseph Stiglitz, about “austerity packages and privatization.” And among the most hit by these measures are the budgets for health and education. And the countries that refuse these measures, as well as US power projections run the risk of being targets of the US war on terror.

How did the war on terror affect the people’s right and access to health?

Let us take the example of Afghanistan. According to the World Health Organization, Afghanistan’s health care system in 2001 was among the poorest in the world because of “23 years of conflict, a collapsed economy, and three years of drought.” “Obtaining the most basic of necessities – food, shelter and clothing – is a constant struggle. Such exposure intensifies an already poor health situation, with acute respiratory illnesses, diarrheal diseases, and malnutrition killing and weakening the children of Afghanistan. There is a critical shortage of health care workers at every level. Healthcare facilities are in urgent need of restoration. There are inadequate supplies of medicines, vaccines, equipment and fuel. An estimated 6 million people have no access, or insufficient access to health care.”

– Life expectancy rates are among the lowest in the world and 25 percent of children die before their fifth birthday. Lack of basic health care and malnutrition contribute to the high death rates.

– Afghanistan has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world. Less than 15 percent of deliveries are attended by trained health workers, mostly traditional birth attendants.

– About half of children under 5 years of age are stunted due to chronic malnutrition and up to 10 percent have acute malnutrition

– Mental health is a major health concern. Experts estimate that approximately 30–50 percent of the population undergoing violent conflict develop some level of mental distress. Residual mental health problems that appear normally in any population have been unattended in Afghanistan for decade

– Diseases that have largely been controlled in most countries in the world continue to cause death and disability in Afghanistan. More than 60% of all childhood deaths and disabilities in Afghanistan are due to respiratory infections, diarrhea, and vaccine preventable deaths, especially measles.

How did Afghanistan fare after eight years of being “liberated” by the US from the rule of the Taliban?

Eight years of US occupation has not resulted in any improvement in the state of health in Afghanistan. According to an article “Afghanistan Faces a Public Health Emergency, which was published by the Epoch Times, in 2009:

– More than 1.6 million children under the age of five and thousands of women could die in 2009 as a result of the lack of food and medical care

– Food shortages and inclement weather could leave eight million Afghans—30 percent of the population—on the brink of starvation. People’s access to food is being stymied by low agricultural production, attacks on food convoys, and increases in the prices of food and other basic commodities. In 2005, an average household was reported to be spending 56 percent of its income on food. By 2009, it has risen to 85 percent, according to Susannah Nicol, a spokeswoman for the UN WFP.

– Citing UNICEF statistics, the Epoch times reported that “Diarrhea and acute respiratory infections account for approximately 41 percent of all child deaths in this desperately poor nation of 26 million people, while vaccine-preventable diseases—such as measles, polio, and diphtheria—account for another 21percent.”

– “Afghanistan rates low in practically all health indicators. As a result, it has one of the world’s highest infant and maternal mortality rates. Hospitals in most of the country are in deplorable conditions, and lack enough trained doctors or medical equipment for even the most basic surgeries. Life expectancy is 42 years, according to figures from the World Health Organization (WHO)”

– Mental health persists as a problem that is not being adequately addressed.

And there are also the disabilities caused by landmines and unexploded ordnance, as well as the effects of hazardous waste from military warfare such as depleted uranium.

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