Entries in Iraq (3)


Birth Defects Plague Iraq, But Cause Unknown

iStockPhoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The Iraq War may be over, but the casualties continue for Iraqi couples trying to have children without life-threatening birth defects.

An apparent rise in Iraqi birth defects has left parents, doctors and researchers scrambling for answers – and wondering whether there's a link between the war and babies born with deformities that often render them unable to survive until their first birthday.

"They [parents] feel desperate," Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, a reproductive toxicologist who used to work at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, told ABC News. She traveled to Iraq's Fallujah General Hospital in 2010 to research the birth defects and co-authored studies in 2010 and 2012. "One major problem we had was that there weren't enough families who had normal children, and therefore we ended up with fewer normal family studies."

Savabieasfahani and her colleagues concluded that many Iraqi babies were born with congenital heart defects, spina bifida and other deformities because their parents had high levels of lead, mercury and uranium levels in their hair, nails and teeth. They suggested that the toxins came from airborne pollutants released during the Iraq War.

"Toxic metals such as mercury (Hg) and Pb [lead] are an integral part of war ammunition and are extensively used in the making of bullets and bombs," it says in the results section of the study.

However, the U.S. Department of Defense believes the evidence is insufficient to determine whether war pollutants caused a rise in birth defects, said department spokeswoman Cynthia Smith. For example, researchers did not account for whether mothers had adequate nutrition or access to medical care during pregnancy, and they did not always consider whether the parents were cousins, she said.

"The studies have instead relied on the occurrence of conflict during specified years, and then presumed exposure of individuals to specific munitions," Smith told ABC News. "The studies have also presumed specific health effects from the claimed exposures without benefit of any scientific evidence proving the association of health effects with those exposures."

Savabieasfahani collected tissue samples from 56 families at Fallujah General Hospital to see whether parents of babies with birth defects had more lead and mercury in their bodies than parents of babies without birth defects. Savabieasfahani's co-author, Dr. Muhsin Al-Sabbak, collected similar data for 28 families at the Al Basrah Maternity Hospital, where he is a gynecologist and obstetrician.

They concluded that parents of children with birth defects had higher levels of lead, mercury and uranium than parents of normal children.

Savabieasfahani also wrote in her 2010 study that birth defects were present in 15 percent of all Fallujah births. Birth defects occur in about 3 percent of births in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, the Federal Ministry of Health of Iraq and the World Health Organization have yet to release their joint study exploring the prevalence of birth defects in Iraq. Its results are expected to be published this spring. The study is a response to smaller, independent studies about birth defects, and an increased number of birth defect reports submitted to the ministry, according to the World Health Organization's website.

Savabieasfahani said it was sometimes difficult to persuade parents to participate in her study because birth defects are a source of shame in Fallujah. As such, she thinks birth defects and miscarriages may be underestimated.

Al-Sabbak, who is based in Basrah, Iraq, told ABC News that he is sure that more of his patients have either given birth to babies with multiple birth defects or suffered multiple miscarriages, and that many of them lived in areas where they would have been exposed to pollution from the war.

One of Al-Sabbak's patients had 19 miscarriages, Savabieasfahani said.

"They're actually asking whether they should stop conceiving," Al-Sabbak said. "They do ask me, 'What am I going to do?' I don't have the answer."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Father in Iraq Watches Birth of Twins Via Skype

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WHITEFISH, Mont.) -- No mountain was high enough, no river was wide enough, and no valley was low enough to keep one Montana man from watching the birth of his baby twins on Sept. 25 at North Valley Hospital in Whitefish, Mont.

Jon Zimbelman, 31, Skyped with his wife, Erin, all the way from Basrah, Iraq, where he works as a contractor in the private sector, to watch the delivery of his now-2-week-old twins, Braylon and Brielle.

Erin Zimbelman, 32, of Kalispell, Mont., was worried the hospital might not allow the Skype session to occur, but got the final approval just in time for the babies to arrive.

“I just told him, go get to hard line, go to your office, be ready,” Zimbelman told ABC News.

Because Zimbelman was giving birth to twins, the delivery had to take place in the operating room, where Internet connections are not normally allowed. The anesthesiologist had the final say, and he eventually agreed to allow the iPad in the room.

Zimbelman said she’s gotten nothing but positive feedback about the experience.

“I hope other people will be able to do it, or that hospitals won’t say ‘no’ right away. That was my main concern. No one gave me an answer until the day of, a couple hours before we were doing it all, so it was really nerve-racking,” Zimbelman said.

But the pregnancy also had its complications.

Zimbelman’s mother unexpectedly passed away on July 6, so he used the one trip allowed to him to return home for her funeral.

“My husband’s mom died and so he had to come home for that instead of coming home for the birth,” Zimbelman said. “He had visa entry issues. It was only a one-entry visa.”

So she had to come up with a plan B for him to still be there for the babies.

“I haven’t heard of anybody doing it,” Zimbelman said. “I don’t know if I’m the first or whatnot. But I had to come up with plan B.”

The hospital, knowing she’d need extra help pulling off the Skyping idea, allowed Zimbelman’s friend in the delivery room.

“He got to the see the babies before me, so he was excited,” said Zimbelman. “My girlfriend held up the iPad so he could watch everything that was going on. He said it was life-changing for him. A couple years ago, this would be impossible.”

Zimbelman was worried about the Internet connection working properly because, “Usually Iraq has pretty bad Internet connection, but it was flawless the whole way through.”

The babies are now happy and healthy, but still awaiting their first meeting in person with their father. Hopefully, he can make it home for the holidays.

“They’re doing great,” Zimbelman said. “They are the best babies. They’re sleeping good and are just precious.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Army Releases Latest Mental Health Survey for Troops in Afghanistan, Iraq  

Siri Stafford/Lifesize/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Army’s annual survey of the mental health condition of troops deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq was made public Thursday. Some details were made public a few weeks ago by USA Today, namely that morale among Army troops last year had reached the lowest point in five years.
But there’s no context in news reports that that number would show morale had also dipped significantly in 2007 to 48.7 percent from 65.7 percent in 2005, a year when violence had yet to peak in Iraq.  The 2010 rate of 46.5 percent is comparable to 2007, a tough year in Iraq as the surge of troops got underway and more troops saw more combat.  That’s comparable to what happened in 2010 in Afghanistan where there was a comparable troop surge.
A 19.8 percent rate of acute stress and combined psychological problems in 2010 is more than double what it was in 2005.  But they’re only three percent larger than the 16 percent in 2009 and still below the 23.3 percent recorded during the violent year of 2007.  However, the study’s authors say the 2007 sample numbers were too small, so making comparisons aren’t totally reliable.
Col. Paul Bliese, one of the report’s authors, said Thursday it was no surprise that morale had suffered given the dramatic increase in fighting, which they said noted the highest level of exposure to combat among those surveyed since they started doing the mental health studies in either Afghanistan or Iraq.  The study calculates a mean number to determine that rate.   Certain categories are higher than ever.  Among those surveyed, almost 80 percent said they’d shot at an enemy, 48.4 percent said they’d killed a combatant, and 62.4 percent said they’d experienced an IED go off near them.
However, Army officials who briefed this seventh version of the survey found the troops felt they were better trained and equipped for combat stress and for identifying fellow soldiers at risk of suicides, etc.  One of the report’s authors, said, “I look at those can make the case that here have been some positive changes in the military…preparing soldiers for the harsh reality of combat.”
As in previous surveys, the troops that have been deployed three or four times have reported higher psychological issues than those with fewer deployments.
Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, the Army’s surgeon general noted, “There are few stresses on the human psyche as extreme as the exposure to combat."
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio