Readers telephoned throughout the day yesterday, pledging support for The Independent's appeal to collect funds for sick children in Iraq. Established aid agencies were supportive. The United Nations made it clear that authorisation will follow quickly. Even the British government - which initially suggested that there would be several weeks of delay - said that permission could quickly be granted. Every application for export of medicines must be separately approved by three ministries: the Department of Health, the Foreign Office, and the Department of Trade and Industry.
The Independent will remain involved with ensuring that the drugs get directly to those who most need them. The Red Cross and the Birmingham- based Islamic Relief are among those who have said they are ready to offer practical help in getting the vital drugs to the right place.
Officials of the UN sanctions committee said that authorisation for medicines of the kind which The Independent is planning to send could be issued "within two or three days".
Medicines may be exported to Iraq, but remain in desperately short supply. The drugs include vincristine and methortrexate, urgently needed for treating leukaemia. There has been an explosion in the number of leukaemia cases in Iraq, as reported in Robert Fisk's harrowing reports. The cases appear to be connected with the bombardment of Iraq during the Gulf War, perhaps from fumes from burning oil refineries which contained carcinogens, or even from the bombing of Saddam Hussein's chemical warfare factories.
Many victims are Shia Muslims, the group which rebelled against Saddam in the south of Iraq in the wake of the Gulf War of 1991. That is one reason why the Iraqi government has seemed determined to turn a blind eye to the tragedy. The deliveries of drugs would be with the assistance of international agencies, but would not be controlled by the Iraqi regime.
t The Independent Iraq Appeal, PO Box 6870, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5BT.
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