Rise of Cancers and Birth Defects in Iraq: World Health Organization Refuses to Release Data
UNITED NATIONS, 5 Aug 2013
To the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Iraqi Ministry of Health: (New signatures added)
The back-breaking burden of cancers and birth defects continues to weigh heavily on the Iraqi people.
The joint WHO and Iraqi Ministry of Health Report on cancers and birth defect in Iraq was originally due to be released in November 2012. It has been delayed repeatedly and now has no release date whatsoever.
By March 2013, staff from the Iraqi Ministry of Health announced that this report will show an increase in cancers and birth defects due to the explosions of war. This was broadcasted repeatedly on the BBC.
Therefore we are baffled and alarmed at the WHO’s inability to release any of its findings, despite our urgent request of May 2013, for the WHO to release its report.
The Iraqi birth defects epidemic, by itself, would outrage anyone with the simplest understanding of population health and disease. Who could justify blocking the release of information from a long-completed investigation of that epidemic?
Why have our inquiries failed to break the WHO’s apparent filibuster against releasing that data? WHO has a staff of thousands, including medical doctors, public health specialists, scientists, and sophisticated epidemiologists. They are certainly capable of presenting that data to the public by now.
The need for a timely response to public health emergencies (such as the one unfolding in Iraq) is at the heart of all epidemiological studies. Delivering adequate and timely population relief should be the focal point of this WHO report — but where is the report? Where is the data which was clearly summarized (without numbers) on the BBC in March 2013?
We are now told that some new decisions were taken during a June 25th 2013 meeting http://www.emro.who.int/irq/iraq-infocus/faq-congenital-birth-defect-study.html between WHO and high level authorities of the Iraqi Ministry. They decided that not even a few bits of that birth-defects report can be released before WHO jumps these new hurdles:
(1) “additional analyses not originally conceived”,
(2) “in addition to further analyses, it was determined the work should also undergo the scientific standard of peer review”.
(3) recruitment of a “team of independent scientists… to review the planned analyses”.
(4) “preparation for that meeting”,
(5) “a summary report of that meeting”
(6) “key findings from the analysis” to be released following steps 1-5 above.
To an untrained ear, these might sound like reasonable explanations. We are certainly not opposed to additional steps like analyses, peer review, etc.
Yet none of those steps should be interposed as excuses for further delay in releasing the data which is already known. If it was known in March 2013, when the BBC broadcasted the Iraqi Ministry’s comments on that data, then surely now that information can be released. Why is it still treated like a state secret?
However, large-scale epidemiological studies, such as the WHO report on Iraq birth defects, are expensive to fund. Hence, highly competitive proposals are elicited for such studies. It is a matter of routine practice to include a detailed study time-line in such proposals from the beginning — not at the end. The time-line routinely includes an estimation of time for data analysis and reanalysis, followed by publication of findings (i.e. peer-review). This normally means there is a clear and defined timeframe in which the data is expected to be published. The originally reported release date (November 2012) is now long gone. So yes, the continuing delay, augmented by fresh excuses for more delay, concerns us.
The past record of the WHO when dealing with related findings from the region are also a source of serious concern.
The British Medical Journal published an article entitled” WHO suppressed evidence on effects of depleted uranium, expert says” in November 2006. It suggested that earlier WHO reports were compromised by the omission of a full account of depleted uranium genotoxicity.
Additionally, recent revelations by Hans von Sponeck, the former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, suggest that WHO may be susceptible to pressure from its member states. Mr. von Sponeck has saidthat “The US government sought to prevent WHO from surveying areas in southern Iraq where depleted uranium had been used and caused serious health and environmental dangers.”
Given the urgent public health crisis in Iraq, we the undersigned encourage the WHO and the Iraqi Health Ministry to release all available data from their completed study on birth defects and cancers immediately.
The Iraqi people’s health will be further harmed if you continue to delay that release. Allowing the public to examine that data cannot possibly hamper the WHO’s own expanded analysis.
Affiliations are listed only for identification purposes, unless otherwise indicated.
1) Muhsin Al-Sabbak , Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Al Basrah Maternity Hospital, Basrah, Iraq.
2) Susan Sadik Ali, Professor of Dentistry, Al Basrah Maternity Hospital, Basrah, Iraq.
3) Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, Researcher, Environmental Toxicologist, Tehran, Iran.
4) Saeed Dastgiri, Professor of Epidemiology, Tabriz University of Medical Sciences, Tabriz, Iran.
5) Azadeh Shahshahani, National Lawyers Guild, Atlanta, Georgia U.S.A.
6) As`ad AbuKhalil, Professor, Dept. of Politics, California State University, Stanislaus; U.S.A.
7) Maged Agour MD, Consultant Psychiatrist, U.K.
8) A Haroon Akram-Lodhi, Chair of the Department of International Development Studies Trent University, Canada.
9) Izzeldin Abuelaish, Associate Professor of Global Health, University of Toronto, Canada.
10) Michael Albert, American activist, economist, speaker, and writer.
11) Riad Bacho, Associate Professor, Lebanese University, Beirut, Lebanon.
12) Haim Bresheeth, Professor of film studies, filmmaker, photographer, University of East London, U.K.
13) David O. Carpenter, M.D. Director, Institute for Health and the Environment, Professor, Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, University at Albany, N.Y.
14) Noam Chomsky, Professor of linguistics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, U.S.A.
15) Blaine Coleman, Human rights activist and attorney, U.S.A.
16) Michael Collins, Professor, UCLA School of Public Health, Department of Molecular Toxicology, Environmental Health Sciences, Los Angeles U.S.A.
17) David Cromwell Co-Editor, Media Lens, U.K.
18) Tom Davis, Chief Program Officer, Food for the Hungry, U.S.A.
19) Peter Eglin, Department of Sociology, Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada.
20) Christo El Morr, Assistant Professor of Health Informatics, York University, Canada.
21) Gavin Fridell, Canada Research Chair in International Development Studies, Saint Mary’s University, Canada.
22) Irene Gendzier, Professor, Dept of Political Science, Boston University, USA.
23) Jess Ghannam, Professor, Department of Psychiatry, and Global Health Sciences University of California, San Francisco, USA.
24) Prof. David Ingleby, Centre for Social Science and Global Health, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands.
25) Kazuko Ito, Secretary General, signing on behalf of Human Rights Now, Japan.
26) Ms. Nahoko Tahako, Human Rights Now, Japan.
27) Jon Jureidini Professor and Child Psychiatrist, Department of Psychological Medicine Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Adelaide, University of Adelaide and Senior Research Fellow Department of Philosophy, Flinders University, South Australia.
28) Ilan Kapoor, Professor, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University, Toronto, Canada.
29) Leili Kashani, Human rights activist, Center for constitutional rights, U.S.A.
30) Michael Keefer, Professor emeritus School of English and Theatre Studies, University of Guelph, Guelph, Canada.
31) Imad Khadduri, Iraqi nuclear scientist. U.K.
32) David Klein, Professor of Mathematics, California State University, Northridge, U.S.A.
33) Mustafa Koc, Professor, Department of Sociology and Centre for Studies in Food Security, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.
34) Hans Koechler, Professor and Chair of Political Philosophy and Philosophical Anthropology University of Innsbruck, President of the International Progress Organization, Vienna, Austria.
35) Malcolm Levitt, School of Chemistry, University of Southampton, U.K.
36) Drake Logan Civilian-Soldier Alliance, Right to Heal Initiative Right to Heal/Operation Recovery Research Team New York, United States.
37) Rudy List, Professor Emeritus, Mathematics, University of Birmingham, U.K.
38) Ken Loach, television and film director. U.K.
39) Moshe Machover, Professor Emeritus of philosophy, King’s College, London, U.K.
40) Arthur MacEwan, Professor Emeritus of Economics, University of Massachusetts, Boston, U.S.A.
41) Mary Anne Mercer, DrPH, Senior Mother & Child Health Advisor, on behalf of Health Alliance InternationalSeattle, U.S.A.
42) David Nicholl, MD, Consultant Neurologist, Birmingham, U.K.
43) David Ozonoff, Professor of Environmental Health, Boston University, Boston, U.S.A.
44) David Peterson, Chicago-based writer and researcher. U.S.A.
45) Mr. John Pilger, journalist and film director. U.K.
46) Elaine Power, Associate Professor, School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, Queen’s University Kingston, Canada.
47) Hilary Rose, Professor of Social Policy, University of Bradford Emerita Professor of Genetics and Society, Gresham College, London, former consultant to the WHO Copenhagen, Denmark.
48) Steven Rose, Emeritus Professor of Biology (neuroscience) Department of Life Health and Chemical Sciences The Open University Milton Keynes, MK76AA Emeritus Professor of Physick (Genetics and Society) Gresham College London
49) Professor Jonathan Rosenhead, Department of Management, London School of Economics.
50) Pamela Spees, Senior Staff Attorney, on behalf of Center for Constitutional Rights, United States.
51) Ruqayya Sulaiman-Hill, Centre for Rural Health, University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia.
52) Susanne Soederberg, Professor of Global Development Studies, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
53) John Tirman, Executive Director and Principal Research Scientist, Center for International Studies, MIT, U.S.A.
54) Tahir Zaman, Center for Research on Migration and Belonging, University of East London, U.K.
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