A group of nine church-related health specialists from the United States, Switzerland, and India conducted a four-day workshop in Iraq in May in an effort to reduce an escalating infant and maternal death rate.

The trip was sponsored by the evangelical organization Venture Middle East, based in Nicosia, Cyprus. Medical personnel said the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq since the 1991 Persian Gulf War have not dislodged Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein as intended.

Rather, they say, a deteriorating health-care system has caused the deaths of more than 560,000 children in the past six years. The Iraqi infant mortality rate is ten times higher than that of most developed countries, with an estimated 1,200 children dying weekly from preventable causes.

"We experienced an overwhelming realization of the immense health problems faced by the most vulnerable in Iraqi society— mothers, children, aged, and the poor," says community health expert Swailem Hennein of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The workshops trained 60 Iraqi health professionals in emergency and preventive methods designed to save the lives of expectant mothers and newborns. The economic sanctions do not prohibit such training, nor the more than $2 million worth of medicine and relief supplies shipped by Venture Middle East since 1995.

Venture Middle East President Leonard Rodgers says the trip transcends the political turmoil that caused U.S. involvement in the Gulf War in the first place. "Our goal was to provide a highly qualified delegation of medical professionals, who believe and honor God, with the opportunity to get personally involved in delivering positive service to the people of Iraq," Rodgers says.

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