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Taking up cudgels for peace

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 25 January 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:184

In a week that has seen anti-war demonstrations take place around the world, Jocalyn Clark looks at what doctors in Europe, North America, and Australia are doing to promote peace

In what has been described as the strongest anti-war movement since Vietnam, scores of organisations representing health professionals around the world have joined thousands of international protesters opposing war on Iraq.

Anti-war sentiment was fuelled last week when a campaign group opposed to sanctions against Iraq published a leaked United Nations document that predicted as many as 100000 deaths in the event of a war.

The “strictly confidential” document, dated 10 December 2002 and entitled Likely Humanitarian Scenarios, predicts high numbers of civilian deaths, a nutritional crisis, and an outbreak of disease on “epidemic if not pandemic proportions.” The document was leaked to the Cambridge University based Campaign against Sanctions on Iraq, which published it on its website (see

The UN document's estimates are based on the World Health Organization's predictions of 100000 direct and 400000 indirect casualties. Over two million children and one million pregnant women are expected to be malnourished. Two million Iraqis will need shelter. It is predicted that the United Nations will be unable to cope even with the 130000 refugees already living in Iraq.

The scenarios are gloomier still if the conflict is long drawn out, and biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons are used. Similarly, the picture …

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