In a new study of victims of Saddam Hussein’s chemical warfare, people exposed to such agents struggle with lifelong mental and physical health problems, including depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and damage to their lungs, skin and eyes.
The study is published in the journal PLOS One.
Currently, tens of thousands of people, primarily in the Middle East, suffer from lasting damage after exposure to chemical weapons.
In the late 1980s, sulfur mustard (SM, or mustard gas) was used on a large scale in Iraq. The most notorious and severe gas attacks were conducted by the Iraqi government of Hussein against the Kurdish city of Halabja, Iraq, in 1988. Approximately 5,000 people died and tens of thousands were injured.
For the study, researchers from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and Martin Luther University Halle-Wittendberg, Germany, conducted in-depth interviews with 16 survivors of the Halabja gas attacks. All of the participants (ages 34 to 67) had been diagnosed with chronic pulmonary complications.
The findings show that the victims suffer from severely impaired health, both physical and mental. This includes respiratory problems, insomnia, fatigue and eye problems, as well as depressive symptoms, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The researchers also refer to “chemical contamination anxiety,” a powerful reaction to exposure among these participants. It has limited their family lives, social relations and work capacity. Unemployment and loss of social capital have, in turn, led to social isolation.
“The findings show that exposure to chemical warfare agents, especially sulfur mustard, results in lifelong physical and mental ill-health,” said first author Faraidoun Moradi, a doctoral student of occupational and environmental medicine at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg.
“Our conclusion is that holistic care of the victims and, above all, detection of their somatic and mental ill-health, can minimize the deterioration in their health,” said Moradi, a registered pharmacist and specialist resident doctor in general medical practice.
Moradi also emphasizes the fact that hundreds of Kurdish and Syrian victims of gassing with sulfur mustard have migrated to Sweden, and may need care and monitoring in the Swedish primary care services.
“Studies of SM-exposed patients in Sweden, and their symptoms, experience and care needs, are lacking. We need more knowledge in this area to be able to improve their reception and clinical treatment by the care services, and be prepared to deal with incidents in the future,” Moradi said.
Source: University of Gothenburg