Now the medical charity is lobbying the American and British governments to focus urgently on the healthcare needs of the Iraqi population, following the invasion of the country.

Medact's report, highlighting the devastating impact of war on the Iraqi population, reveals that between 22,000 and 55,000 Iraqi civilians died during the bombing of the country.

The report titled, Continuing Collateral Damage: the Health and Environmental costs of War on Iraq, says the American and British occupiers are obliged under international law to ensure the healthcare needs of the population are met.

Findings

One of the co-authors of the report, Dr Sabya Faruq, told Aljazeera.net that the situation across Iraq was desperate.

''There has been a reported increase in maternal mortality rates, acute malnutrition has almost doubled from 4% to 8% in the last year and there has been an increase in water-borne disease and vaccine-preventable diseases.''

Iraq has a population of 25 million people, half of whom are under the age of 18. Children are particularly vulnerable in post-war Iraq, with one in four not receiving immunisation against measles since Saddam Hussein was removed from power.

The charity says that mines and unexploded bombs are continuing to kill and maim. The effects of chemicals, such as depleted uranium used by invading forces, on civilians could take decades to manifest.

Pre-Conflict

Dr Faruq has told Aljazeera.net that before the recent invasion of Iraq, the country had a poor record on healthcare, but the situation now is at breaking point.

'Iraq was never a third world country, it had a fairly developed healthcare system that was able to deliver to the population'

Dr Sabya Faruq, Medact

In 1990, the UN development index, which ranks countries in terms of provisions of healthcare, education and life expectancy rates, placed Iraq 50th out of 130 countries. By 2003 and before the recent invasion of the country, Iraq had dropped to 126th out of 174 countries.

''Iraq was never a third world country, it had a fairly developed infrastructure and healthcare system that was able to deliver to the population. Now, the escalating violence in post-war Iraq is creating huge problems.

''The effects of the war will impact on the healthcare of future generations and, with the way things stand, the situation will get worse.''

Support

Medact is also calling for better support for Iraqi doctors and healthcare workers who are working under increasingly difficult conditions ''This report hasn't even touched on the trauma that doctors in Iraq have been and are suffering. They are working on the frontline and are subjected to violence themselves on an almost daily basis.''

Dr Faruq says that it is important for doctors and development workers to speak up about what is really happening in Iraq.

''Healthcare workers have a duty to speak out and let the outside world know about what's happening in Iraq. We have to speak up to make sure that civilians aren't suffering any more than they already are.''

The charity is calling on the UN to send peacekeepers to Iraq so that humanitarian and reconstruction work can begin.