Claudia Lefko: Wanted: A computer to fight cancer in Iraq

Published: 1/22/2020 5:00:16 PM

Thanks to Vijay Prashad for his Jan. 14 column, “The Iraq War never ended.” I would amend the title to read, “Wars in Iraq have never ended.”

The Gulf War of 1990 destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure and institutions, the 2003 invasion that started the Iraq War heaped on more rubble, institutional dysfunction, and suffering and set the stage for sectarian violence. And there was the “silent war,” the U.S. supported United Nations economic sanctions that took such a toll on the people, especially the children, of Iraq.

I have been personally involved in the tragic aftermath of our wars, working with a team of pediatric oncologists in Baghdad since my first visit in January of 2001. I’ve seen or heard firsthand about the challenges of living in a never-ending-war zone.

Here’s our latest challenge: Dr. Mazin Al-Jadiry, senior oncologist and assistant professor in the School of Medicine in the University of Baghdad, needs a new computer. But there are no funds, and nothing is budgeted. He must use his own money to buy a computer — a critical tool, a necessity — for a university professor and doctor caring for young children suffering from cancer.

There are a few other problems. There is no computer store in Baghdad where he could purchase the high-capacity computer he needs; the ongoing, and now revived, instability makes it impossible to imagine shipping a computer to Baghdad. Dr. Mazin’s unit — a unit, not a hospital — is one of the largest cancer facilities in the Middle East, treating more than 50% of all pediatric cancer cases in Iraq. Can you image Dana-Farber doctors without a computer? Or Smith College professors forced to buy their own computers for their work?

This is the cost of our war in Iraq. Iraqi institutions lack the organizational capacity and financial resources necessary to provide what is needed for basic services, such as education and health care. The war is not over; chaos continues. And this makes it hard to do anything in Iraq — to buy a computer, to take care of yourself and your family, to stay alive and well, or live a “normal” life.

Claudia Lefko


Donations to help buy a computer Dr. Mazin can be sent to Iraqi Children’s Art, 40 Valley St., Northampton MA 01060.

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