Nicholas Comninellis

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What Are Diseases Of War?

Diseases of poverty? Very familiar. Diseases of affluence? Quite conventional. But what do we know about diseases of war? And, what is the key to controlling them?

For two years I worked in the nation of Angola, suffering the longest running war in modern African history. Villagers with traumatic amputation from land mines arrived almost daily at our 100-bed hospital. Gunshot wounds to the extremities were common, but not wounds to the torso. These people usually died on site. But far and beyond, the most common conditions we encountered were the Three Ms of War: malaria, measles, and malnutrition. Successful malaria treatment existed but how could the drugs reach people living under siege? Measles vaccination was 95% effective, but who would carry the shots across landmine-laden fields to protect the children? Corn and beans grew easily, but who would resist the soldiers stealing these crops?

Impact of the Gulf Wars on Iraqi health is well documented. “Communicable diseases increased significantly during the peak years of the war, especially during the US troop surge period (2007–2009). As US troops withdrew (after 2011), overall communicable diseases decreased. The incidence rate of nearly half of the 32 diseases tracked decreased significantly (pneumonia, measles, diphtheria, neonatal tetanus, pertussis, and rubella), while the incidence rate of five increased significantly (hepatitis A, varicella, viral meningitis, cutaneous leishmaniasis, extrapulmonary tuberculosis).” The latter was perhaps due to more efficient disease reporting rather than actual disease frequency.

Since October 2023, we have witnessed horrendous civilian suffering and death connected with Hamas-Israel conflict. Multiple-source reports of hunger, homelessness, traumatic injuries, and highly contagious diseases evoke deeply felt concerns. More disturbing still, Gaza is home to 50,000 pregnant women, and 180 women in Gaza are delivering babies each day, but into what conditions?

In Angola, armed with meager resources, we worked diligently to fight malaria, measles, and malnutrition. No less could be said of heroic healthcare personnel in the Gulf Wars. But true progress against Angolan and Iraqi diseases of war was only realized once peace was achieved. No less can be said of eliminating the diseases of war in today’s bloody conflicts. To this end, we invoke Christ’s admonition Blessed are the peacemakers.

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