Defective survey?

Letter by Rachel Thompson, CADU

ImageThank you for the measured and logical article, ‘Campaigners allege Iraqi birth defects survey has been manipulated - but fail to back up claims’ (PN 2563). We at the Campaign Against Depleted Uranium agree that rejecting the results of the IMoH study and claiming manipulation with no evidence is erroneous.

However, it could equally be argued that the way the IMoH study dismisses previous published research which contradicts its findings without a rigorous discussion is not scientifically objective. These contradictory previous studies are dismissed for ‘not meet[ing] the norms of an objective study of birth defects’ even though some of them derive from hospital-based registration which is arguably a more accurate method than door-to-door recall-based surveys.

Concerns were raised from multiple quarters about the utility of the recall-based methodology, and even from the reviewers themselves regarding the geographical extent of the study and how representative the study districts are.

Another issue that warrants serious scrutiny is the source of the statements in the BBC documentary, ‘Born under a bad sign’, asserting that the initial results of the study show higher rates of birth defects in areas that were subject to intense military activity. The stark difference between this initial information and the report summary requires explanation.

Past experience from the US (for example, the US agency for toxic substances and disease registry)shows that failings in public health protection are common in relation to corporate or political interests. Former world health organisation officials in Iraq have stated that political conflicts of interest similarly thwarted previous studies into birth defects in Iraq.

Conclusively rejecting the IMoH study on the basis of current evidence is not possible. Nonetheless, the concerns highlighted by health professionals and campaigners should not be taken lightly either. Conducting an open and transparent review of the IMoH study in a peer-reviewed journal and a rigorous comparison with previous conflicting studies would be an excellent step in the right direction.

I therefore urge readers to join us in supporting Iraqi paediatrician Dr Samira Alaani’s petition calling for the full release of the data: