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12/12/04 - SAVING CHILDREN IN IRAQ - 2004-12-10

Two decades of misrule by Saddam Hussein have taken their toll on Iraq's children. The United Nations reports that one-in-four of Iraqis under five years of age were chronically malnourished. One-in-eight died before their fifth birthday. Iraqi children were not being immunized against disease. But the situation, says Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, is beginning to change:

"We have now immunized over three-million [Iraqi] children under the age of five.... Pregnant women have been educated in neo-natal care and included in monthly immunization days. We've begun to integrate the vaccination campaigns by retraining the ministry of health, re-equipping health care clinics, training doctors and nurses."

Iraqi children are now receiving twice yearly doses of Vitamin A. Experts say the supplement will reduce child mortality rates by more than twenty percent.

Adding to the problem was a lack of safe drinking water. Zina Yahya, a nurse in a Baghdad maternity hospital, told the Washington Post newspaper: "If you put it in a glass, you can see its turbid [not clear]."

Mr. Natsios says the coalition is helping to rebuild the water and sewer systems in Iraq:

"Right now, raw waste from Baghdad's three-million-eight-hundred-thousand residents floats untreated directly into the Tigris river, and that was a major cause of children's deaths. . . .We are now working on rehabilitating nine sewer treatment plants. Some of them are already opened."

As an official at an Iraqi teaching hospital told a reporter, "God help us build Iraq for our children. Not for us. For our kids."