Intended for healthcare professionals


Counting the dead in Iraq

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 10 March 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:550
  1. Klim McPherson (, visiting professor of public health epidemiology
  1. Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Oxford University, Oxford OX1 2JD

We need to know how many people have died

Counting the dead is intrinsic to civilised society. Understanding the causes of death is a core public health responsibility. The government's white paper on public health emphasises the vital role of assessing the impact on health of all public policy.1 This is well recognised, and yet neither the public nor public health professionals are able to obtain reliable and officially endorsed information about the extent of civilian deaths attributable to the allied invasion of Iraq. Estimates vary between tens and hundreds of thousands.

These estimates come from reports in the press, or counting bodies admitted to hospitals, ( as well as surveys. The former are likely to be inaccurate and to underestimate the true numbers and do not easily allow for reliable attribution between, for example, violent and natural causes. Public access to reliable data on mortality is important. The policy being assessed—the allied invasion of Iraq—was justified largely …

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