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Special Edition: War in the Middle East

Aired July 23, 2006 - 08:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi. Good morning, I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta, live in Beirut. Welcome to a very special edition of HOUSE CALL. Day 12 of open warfare between Israel and Hezbollah. Anywhere between six and eight missile air strikes actually occurring just around this area as well here in West Beirut. It is becoming a humanitarian crisis, people are running out of safe refuge, they are running out of fuel, they are running out of food as well. We have seen so many casualties of this war, 266 the official number here now in Lebanon. What we have found most remarkable though, is that sometimes hospitals themselves become casualties of war.

GUPTA (voice-over): I've seen firsthand what this war has done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He lost his leg --

GUPTA: And I know it's the physical injuries that are obvious and most widely discussed. But it may be this mother with worsening mental illness who is much more reflective of true Lebanon. Unhurt, but terribly frightened. Can she be reached? She is displaced and willing to share her story, but not her name. She tells us that she was under the bombardment in the heavy hit southern suburbs of Beirut, leaving her home destroyed. Severe headaches, terror that just won't subside. She calls it a medical problem with her mind. Already diagnosed with an anxiety disorder it has been made even worse by the constant explosions, endless noise, the unknown. She tells us she should be taking medication to control her emotions, but cannot. She has lost them in the raids and has no way to get them or any other treatment.

(on camera): As far as I can tell, getting care to those with worsening mental health is simply not a priority. I mean in bombed- out Beirut here, it's hard enough to get basic need to people who have recently been injured and that's even getting more difficult. I want to point out something. We're actually standing in a nursery of a large hospital in Beirut. This is a nursery. I mean look, you have the bunny rabbit cutouts here on the window. You have the teddy bears on the curtains, you have pictures of babies that were actually in this nursery when an air strike occurred.

(voice-over): And so treating illness of the mind falls further and further behind. This is the view from a psych ward in Sahil Hospital, no longer available to any of the mentally ill in Beirut. (on camera): And then we're standing in a hospital, this is actually a hospital. Glass obviously all around and this is a patient care room right here. You can see what's happened here. The glass actually went through, some of that struck the patient, the patients were injured, about 30 patients were injured during this particular air strike. But that's what happens when one of these missiles actually hits the ground.

(voice-over): Add to that reports from the Lebanese information ministry of ambulances on fire in the south, making medicine that much harder to practice. And many, like this mother, even harder to reach.

(on camera): How many like her are there in Lebanon at this time? Where are they? They're all over the place.

(voice-over): Perhaps she will be able to get treatment for her invisible illness in Syria or Jordan, just being away from all this destruction will probably help as well.


GUPTA: In response to our reporting, we did receive a statement from IDF, that's the Israeli Defense Force. They gave us this statement that says, "The IDF does not target civilian infrastructures and makes every effort to avoid harming civilians. At this point, no concrete accusations have been made in this regard. The IDF will look into any specific information on such claims if presented."

And joining me more to talk about these pressing health issues is Dr. Mohamad Jawad Khalifeh. You are the Minister of Health here in Lebanon, thank you. You've heard about these same reports that we were just talking about. This question of hospitals and ambulances not only being affected by actually being targeted by IDF. What do you say?

DR. MOHAMAD JAWAD KHALIFEH, LEBANESE MINISTER OF PUBLIC HEALTH: First of all, we have a massive loss of civilian lives. This is due to indiscriminate attacks against civilians. Earlier this morning I handed over a detailed report to the envoy of the United Nations, Mr. Egeland, which represents the name of all the civilians that's been targeted. The list contains more than 1,500 casualties, heavy casualties. One of them was in the age group below the age of 15, and the deaths about 300 which is officially documented.

GUPTA: So you're actually documenting every single person that's either died or been affected, you handed them all over to the U.N. this morning?

KHALIFEH: Yes, the date of birth, the age, the name, all the details and the site of injury.

GUPTA: What about these reports of ambulances and hospitals being targeted?

KHALIFEH: Well, where do you want to start? Half an hour ago, an ambulance (INAUDIBLE), near the town of Tyre, the civil defense, which is our evacuation system, by the name of Mr. Rajal (ph), his upper extremity was amputated and he had in his ambulance two other injuries. The man underwent an operation to amputate his upper extremity -- right upper extremity. On the other hand, on Zaharani (ph) bridge, we have the driver of the ambulance, Mr. Zubaidi (ph), he underwent bilateral above-knee amputation.

GUPTA: And this is all from an air strike on an ambulance or...?

KHALIFEH: Yes, definitely, because there's no -- such heavy shelling won't discriminate among civil workers, among the health workers and amongst the hospitals. And this is a very tragic event. It's barely somebody can handle it.

GUPTA: Dr. Khalifeh, you are the minister of health here.


GUPTA: And Lebanon I understand has a very good medical system, typically under normal circumstances. Can they handle what's becoming an increasing problem?

KHALIFEH: Yes, we are handling within our capacity the casualties, but mind you, it's not only the health system. Now hospitals are running out of fuel because they are self-dependent in generating their power. The food supply is less, secondary to blockage and to isolation because of the bridges that were targeted. And this is, again, it's a very tragic event, the consequences are getting from bad to worse.

GUPTA: What is it that was needed more than anything else? I know Jan Egeland from the U.N. is here. Are the humanitarian efforts on the ground, are they actually working?

KHALIFEH: Yes, they are here, but they are not enough. Now you should know that there are 750,000 people have been displaced, and we are a small country. We're barely 4 million. In order to care for 750,000 people displaced, you need a lot of infrastructure of 5 million. I believe the disaster and the situation that we are in now, it's above the capacity of anybody to be handled that easy.

GUPTA: If you'll pardon, Minister, again, you have family yourself living in the south. First of all, how are they doing, I mean are they concerned about their own welfare?

KHALIFEH: Well, they are under (inaudible), but as I mentioned, everybody has to face this fear. There is no place which is safe. And as you know, people who are running away to safe shelters, most of them died on the roads. That's why I mean I don't advise anybody to move from his house because even if he dies there, it's safer than him dying in the streets.

GUPTA: I wish you and your family safe passage and best of luck in Haifa.

KHALIFEH: Thank you very much. GUPTA: Dr. Mohamad Jawad Khalifeh, he's the minister of health of Lebanon. When we come back after the break, we're going to talk to the Israeli minister of health, a representative from that department, to get the Israeli side as well. Join us after the break.


GUPTA: As the fighting escalates on day 12 now of open warfare, emergency rooms are being inundated with patients, not only with physical injuries but also mental injuries as well. Anxiety attacks if you will, that is on both sides. We are joined now by Professor Avi Israeli, he's the director general of the Health Ministry in Israel. Sir, first of all, thank you very much for joining us.


GUPTA: OK. I don't know if you heard some of our previous reporting. I just want to touch on something very quickly. There have been some reports here in Lebanon about ambulances and hospitals actually being affected by some of the air strikes, some of them even being targeted. Your reaction to that.

ISRAELI: We are doing our utmost not to injure any civilians and, of course, no hospital or no ambulances. We are doing our best in order to avoid it. If something like this happened it's very sad and it's a tragedy. I hope it never happened. You know, two of our hospitals were also attacked, and we are sorry for that. I think we should do everything in our power and the Lebanese, the Hezbollah should do the same to avoid any attack on civilians, and of course, attacks on hospitals and ambulances.

GUPTA: What are the most critical medical issues there, professor? I mean Israel obviously has a well renowned medical system there. Is it able to keep up with what's happening now?

ISRAELI: Yes, we can, but we have to take into account that in Israel up to now, there were more than 1,300 people injured and few of them, of course, are, unfortunately, dead and many people with severe injuries. 40 people were injured today. Two of them are, unfortunately, killed and the hospitals in the northern part of Israel are loaded with casualties.

GUPTA: Professor, we talk a lot about obviously the injuries, the physical injuries and that's understandable, but what I sense just being here in Lebanon, is that it's the sort of psychiatric illness, you know people sort of fear the unknown, anxiety attacks that may have already existed ahead of time. How do you take care of those people? Are they sort of forgotten in a situation like this with so much concern about the physically injured?

ISRAELI: No, they are not forgotten at all. We are taking care of all these people with anxiety and acute stress because it's very important and we know that, from experience, unfortunately, that some percentage of them, if they're not treated immediately, some of them will have also late effect and even sometimes chronic problems with mental health. So all of them, or most of them are being treated in the field by psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, in order to relieve their problems and in order to try and make their anxiety as less as possible. Some of them are taken to hospitals where they are taken care of and some of them are being dealt with in the field, in the community, in the villages by professionals.

GUPTA: You know, professor, when you talk a lot about the injured here, there's obviously a huge number of people who are already sick and had existing illness. As someone who is involved with the Department of Health, the Ministry of Health there, what are you being told in terms of how long to prepare to take care of all these people, the physically injured and the existing patients in the hospitals?

ISRAELI: Unfortunately, again, we have a lot of experience and all hospitals have drills as contingency plans. And the moment we were attacked, all hospitals were -- activated their contingency plans and some of the patients that could be sent home already have been sent home. Some of them were taken to other hospitals in the southern part of Israel. There are some conditions that, of course, we needed to take care of. For example, there are patients on dialysis, patients that need chemotherapy, patients that need radiation therapy, all of these patients continue to get care in the facilities nearby their home. Some of them, as I have said, were taken to southern part of Israel and they're being treated in other hospitals or in other communities and not in the north of Israel. Some of them stayed at home and the community is taking care of them for life saving procedures, of course.

GUPTA: Well Professor Israeli, the director general of the Ministry of Health in Israel, thank you for joining us. Safe passage to you and your family as well.

We are live in Beirut with HOUSE CALL. When we come back we're going to have much more here live in Beirut. But check out these medical headlines, all the rest of the week's medical headlines with "the pulse."


JUDY FORTIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A new birth control option will be available by the end of the year in the U.S. Implanon, a single rod inserted in the upper arm works for up to three years.

The cost of caring for Alzheimer's patients is adding up. The first worldwide estimate puts the amount at $248 billion, more than most countries' gross national product.

1-1/2 million people are harmed each year because of drug-related mistakes. A report by the Institute of Medicine says the errors cost over $31/2 billion a year in hospital costs. It places part of the blame on confusion over similar drug names and poor hand writing on prescriptions. It's calling for all health care providers to write prescriptions electronically. Judy Fortin, CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) GUPTA: CNN's Betty Nguyen is keeping an eye on all sides of the story. Here she is with what's happening right now. Betty?

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Sanjay. Well it is day 12 of the hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah. Here's what we know on the diplomatic front. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Bush meet with Saudi officials today at the White House to discuss this conflict. Rice is expected to arrive in the Middle East Monday. Now a meeting with Hezbollah leaders is not on her agenda.

The Israeli defense minister suggests a strong international peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon could resolve this crisis. Amir Peretz made the suggestion in a meeting today in Jerusalem with the German foreign minister.

And Jan Egeland, the head of U.N. relief efforts today toured bomb damage in Beirut. He complained that a lack of security in the region is hampering efforts to distribute food and supplies. And just a short time ago, Israel turned down a request for U.N. relief trucks to travel south of Beirut. So that's the latest, Sanjay.

GUPTA: Betty thanks. When we come back, the story of a war correspondent, when others were leaving Lebanon, war correspondents make their way in. We'll give you our reporter's notebook when we return. This is HOUSE CALL live from Beirut.


GUPTA: Welcome back to this special edition of HOUSE CALL, we are live in Beirut. A lot of people ask how do you actually make your way into a war zone, how do you get from point A to point B in the middle of a war. I've been reporting from Cyprus and now Beirut. I want to give you a sense of how that all comes together. Here's my reporter's notebook.


GUPTA: How much stuff have you got, Jeremy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got 11 cases. That's really light, actually.

I have to travel light when these trips are small, I'm taking one bag, a book bag for books and stuff like that, computer, laptop. We need to be pretty nimble because we're on boats or helicopters and we don't know how we're getting from point A to point B. Right now we're flying over Athens and then to Larnaca and then to Beirut, most likely.

GUPTA (on camera): Nobody here has any idea even of what's really happening in the Middle East, but as we get closer to Larnaca and then obviously to Beirut, things are going to change in a major way. We'll keep you posted on that. Does your phone work?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. GUPTA: We don't even know what we're doing right now, we're trying to get on a helicopter with the marines hoping to get into Beirut out of Larnaca.

All right. We're in Athens, Greece heading towards Larnaca, Cyprus. We have a decision to make, is the best way to get into Beirut. And we're not sure that we made the best decision now. But it was either going into Larnaca, we could possibly have flown into Jordan and then crossed over -- or into Syria and crossed over. Going into Israel would have almost made it impossible than to get into Lebanon because you can't cross the border there. You would have had to leave Israel, go somewhere else and then go into Lebanon. We're hearing that the marines are now patrolling, they're actually taking helicopters back and forth for evacuations. We'll hopefully catch one of those helicopters empty, take us straight into Beirut.

We have finally made it to Larnaca. I think we will stay right here at the airport. We'll probably get on a helicopter and go straight to Beirut. I've never been one to turn down a nice place like Cyprus, but in this case, time is of the essence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fun part. We have 11 cases of gear from D.C. to New York to Athens to Larnaca, Cyprus, and we still have a ways to go. We still have to get to Beirut. It will probably be the toughest leg of the trip.

GUPTA: How do you plan on getting there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. How are you getting us there?

GUPTA (on camera): The way that I think I'm going to get us there is by chopper. The State Department will actually see if they can fly us in some way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hopefully it's a big chopper. We've got a lot of gear.

GUPTA: A lot of gear.

All right, well we've made our way on to an MH-53, it's an air force helicopter. Again, all of our gear, these gentlemen are very nice to help us out with all this stuff. This is a helicopter. It is hot, it is very humid out here as well. We're going to be flying in the helicopter for about an hour and a half, (INAUDIBLE) where we are now, Larnaca (INAUDIBLE) to the United States embassy in Beirut. And from there we're going to try and make our way into getting into (INAUDIBLE). It's not easy to do, (INAUDIBLE).


GUPTA (on camera): I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks for watching HOUSE CALL. Stay tuned to CNN for all of your news and your news on the Mideast conflict. Stay tuned to HOUSE CALL next week as well. CNN SUNDAY MORNING starts in a moment.


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