Monday, April 02, 2007

Revisiting Laura Bush's Basra Children's Hospital Project

Kicksiron reminded me in this comment thread about Laura Bush's highly touted Children's Hospital in Basra.

To refresh our memories, according to the LA Times, the Basra Children's Hospital project was first proposed back in late 2003. First Lady Laura Bush wanted a state-of-the-art pediatric hospital in Iraq and pushed for Project Hope, a charity with ties to the Bush family, to operate it.

The project quickly became a political football as both Republicans and Democrats in Congress questioned the necessity for a state-of-the-art pediatric hospital that would cost billions of dollars to build in a country that lacked basic health care (the hospital would be able to provide plastic surgery and high tech cancer care in a country that had few functional medical clinics.)

Republican Congressional staffers who reviewed the project wondered if it wouldn't be better to spend the money reserved for the Basra Hospital on more mundane basic public health care measures like clean water and vaccinations. Even community leaders in Basra questioned the necessity for the project:

One proposed location for the hospital was Basra, but community leaders there questioned the need for a specialized children's hospital. Improving the decrepit, 682-bed general hospital should take priority, they said. There are also continuing problems with the supply of water and electricity.

More than 80% of the city government's office equipment, supplies and vehicles were looted after Saddam Hussein's fall last year, said Fakhir Mousawi, Basra's director general.

"I would prefer that that money be spent on the services and infrastructure that we need right now," Mousawi said. "Most of the public utilities should get maintenance and rehabilitation."

Nonetheless, Mrs. Bush got her wish and the money for the project was allocated, with Project Hope tapped to run the hospital. Here is how the hospital project was publicized back in October 2005:

First lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice say the United States is working to improve the health care system of Iraq, with special emphasis on offering better care for Iraq's critically ill children.

The first lady and Rice attended a dinner in Washington October 18 organized by Project HOPE, an organization specializing in international health care education, to celebrate the Basrah Children's Hospital Project.

Laura Bush said the Basrah Children's Hospital will have 94 beds, a state-of-the-art neonatal intensive care unit, two operating rooms, two surgical procedure rooms, an emergency room with a trauma station and 13 general outpatient exam rooms.

The hospital will be used to train doctors and nurses in critical care pediatric medicine, she added, noting that children under five account for about 56 percent of cancer cases in Iraq.

Rice said the U.S. Agency for International Development is partnering with Project HOPE, the Iraqi government and the medical community to establish the Basrah Children's Hospital.

In the past two years, the United States has refurbished 110 health clinics and re-equipped 600, conducted nationwide immunization campaigns and trained thousands of health care providers, Rice said. The United States also is building 142 primary health care centers and refurbishing hospitals throughout the country.

But there were problems with the Basra Children's Hospital project right from the start and it quickly went over budget and behind schedule. Here is how the project was progressing as of July 28, 2006, according to the Associated Press:

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Construction of a children's hospital supported by first lady Laura Bush has been put on hold after it fell behind schedule and went over budget, one of dozens of halted or delayed U.S. health projects, Iraqi health officials said Friday.

The high-tech, two-story children's hospital in Basra was intended to provide state-of-the-art care in Iraq's second-largest city. The first lady and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke highly of the project.

But U.S. officials dropped contractor Bechtel Corp. from the project after it missed deadlines and ran up big cost overruns, Dr. Chasib Latif Ali, executive director of the Health Ministry, told The Associated Press. Bechtel Corp. blamed the problem on Iraq's security crisis.


An audit of the Basra hospital released late Friday by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction faulted the U.S. Agency for International Development, which was running the project, for failing to identify the increased hospital costs earlier.

Ali said the Basra hospital was just one example of health projects that the U.S. had promised but failed to deliver.

"The Americans have made a lot of promises to us, but not even 10 percent of them have materialized," Ali said.

He said that, of nearly 180 medical facilities promised by the U.S., contracts were awarded for 142. Only six have been completed and turned over to the Iraqis and those "are not even fully complete."

"This comes as a sharp contrast to the Japanese," Ali said. "They have promised and delivered 13 hospitals around the country, including three cutting-edge cancer centers. The Japanese have been very faithful to us, unfortunately, the Americans aren't like that."

Bechtel, which holds major contracts for reconstruction work in Iraq, was put in charge of the project in 2004, with an initial budget of $50 million. The facility was expected to be completed by Sept. 2006, "but now the money has ran out and the project has been postponed indefinitely," Ali said.

The New York Times reported in July 2006 that Bechtel, the company building the project, was dropped after the project ran 150% over budget and fell at least a year behind schedule. At that time, the project was only 40% complete.

So here we have Mrs. Bush and Dr. Rice bragging in 2005 about all the medical clinics/hospitals the Bush administration was either building or refurbishing and in 2006 the executive director of the Iraqi Health Ministry saying "Bullshit" - the Japanese finish the projects they promise to build, the U.S. lets Bechtel and other multi-national corporations with ties to Bush administration officials to pillage money for the unfinished projects. And he points in particular to the Basra Hospital project as emblematic of the incompetence of the American rebuilding efforts in Iraq.

That was as of July 2006.

Now it's 9 months later and the project is still being built. Here is Mrs. Bush talking about the Basra Children's Hospital project at a March 8, 2007 Kuwait-America Foundation Gala:

Your Excellencies, distinguished guests. I'm delighted to be with you tonight as we honor Project HOPE. Since 1958, Project HOPE has brought care and compassion to millions of people around the world. They've responded with humanitarian aid in the wake of natural disasters, from the Southeast Asian tsunami to Hurricane Katrina. They've provided essential medical services for women, from breast cancer screenings to prenatal nutrition. They've trained more than 2 million health care workers in 80 countries. From China to the Czech Republic, from Mexico to Mozambique, these workers provide some of the world's neediest regions with good health, and renewed hope.

One of these regions is Iraq. During Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, Iraq's health care system fell into ruin. For years, ordinary Iraqis were shut off from the medical advances made in the developing world. Infant and child mortality rates doubled in 10 years, and millions of children suffered needlessly. Now, as the people of Iraq work to rebuild their country, improving health care for children is a top priority.

A strong health care system for Iraq starts with the Basrah Children's Hospital. Construction is about 40% complete, and medical professionals who will staff the hospital are already being trained. In partnership with the Iraqi Ministry of Health and Jordan's King Hussein Cancer Center, nearly 40% of the hospital's physicians have received updated clinical training. In July, the Japanese government provided advanced surgical training for the hospital's Chief of Pediatric Surgery.

Last January, Project HOPE launched its program to train 250 nurses. Already, 92 Iraqis have graduated from nursing courses offered through Jordanian hospitals, and developed in cooperation with top hospitals in the United States. The program will make sure Basrah Children's Hospital has a caring, compassionate, expert nursing staff. And it will set the standard for training medical professionals throughout Iraq.

Parents everywhere want their children to be healthy. And when our children aren't well, we want them to receive the best medical care science has to offer. Our hope is that someday soon, Iraqi parents will be comforted by knowing that if their children are ill, they can get well in a good hospital close to home.

Thanks to each and every one of you for your support of the Basrah Children's Hospital. And thank you to Dr. Howe and Project HOPE for partnering with the U.S. government on this very important project. As the United States stands with Iraqis working to build a healthy democracy, your efforts will ensure that the blessings of freedom are enjoyed by healthy children.

I guess she spoke those words with a straight face, but four years after the hospital was first proposed, seven months after the project was supposed to be completed, and billions of dollars past the original budget (three times the original alloacation), the hospital is still only 40% complete.

40% - the same percentage that was complete back in July 2006. And yet Laura Bush, with a straight face, is STILL bragging about what a great thing this the state-of-the-art hospital is going to be when it's finished.

If it's ever finished.

The sheer scope of the incompetence, arrogance and stupidity of the Bush administration and some of the Bush family members is astounding. It seems like Laura Bush is a perfect match for Dubya - she's as clueless and deluded as he is to be able to brag about something as screwed as the Basra Children's Hospital project.

(Thanks to Kicksiron for the inspiration)

You noticed that the medical training is going on in Jordan -- that's because the vast majority of former medical professionals have fled the country for Jordan and Syria. If and when security can be guaranteed for all will they come trickling back. I would assume the same can be said for most professionals -- the people whose skills earned them enough to get out of Dodge with their lives -- the professors, lawyers and the like who enable progress in a society.

One might ask why children in Basra suffer from higher-than-normal rates of cancer. I would suspect the culprit is the massive modification of water flow that Saddham initiated in the south to punish the rebelious swamp Arabs. It wouldn't be surprising to find the water now contains carcinogens at unheard-of levels. That's one more thing that needs to be fixrd before normal life can resume.

Aparently, W missed the lectures where his professors pointed out that everyone has an occasional good idea; few can map out an idea's implementation; fewer still can anticipate the most disasterous problems that may crop up and avoid them. That's why good managers earn the big bucks, not who they know and how many posteriors they kiss.

If Eli Yale weren't already dead...

Incidentally, thanks for the update.
But from this administration's point of view, the hospital is a success. It generates warm and fuzzy deulsions for those who want to believe we're doing good things in Iraq. Doesn't matter that it's actually just vaporware.

Kids under 5 account for 56% of cancer patients in Iraq? That's an amazing stat.
Funny thing, kicksiron, is that W thinks he's a good manager even though every management job he ever got was through his family's connections and every company he took over he ran into the ground - including the U.S. of A.

abi, I think you've hit on the reason why Laura can say such bullshit w/ a straight face. it is all just p.r. for the idiotic base who believe whatever FOX News and the WH say.
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