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Child cancer alert from Iraq troubles

Friday February 19th, 2010

Children in southern Iraq have faced a massively increased risk of developing leukaemia, researchers reported yesterday.

Researchers said the rate in Basrah is nearly four times the rate found in neighbouring Kuwait.

Researchers say their estimates are "cautious" as repeated wars made it difficult to identify full population numbers - and also cases of illness.

Exposure to chemicals, including benzene and depleted uranium munitions, following the 2003 war and earlier conflicts may have contributed, they say.

By 2007, the rate of leukaemia among children reached 8.5 for every 100,000, the researchers reported in the American Journal of Public Health.

The rate is two in Kuwait and less than five in the USA and the European Union.

The greatest number of cases was recorded in 2006 - some 96 - out of a total of 698 between 1993 and 2007.

Researcher Amy Hagopian, of the University of Washington, Seattle, USA, said: "Studying childhood diseases in war situations is difficult. Aside from the normal difficulties of controlling for referral patterns changes caused by war-time conditions, the political situation is also challenging.

"We were constantly worried about the political risks our medical colleagues were taking by collecting and reporting these data."

The US researchers worked with Mustansiriya University in Baghdad and Basrah University on the project.

The researchers say children may have suffered from exposure to blazing petroleum fires, from children selling petrol at the side of roads and possibly to exposure to nerve cases, pesticides and uranium depleted munitions during conflict.

American Journal of Public Health, 10.2105/AJPH.2009.164236

Tags: Asia | Cancer | Child Health | North America

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