Burn Pits’ Negative Effects on Women in the Middle East: The Work of Dr. Mozhgan Savabieasfahani

Senses Cultural is committed to bringing important and timely issues regarding women in the Middle East to the forefront of conversation in the United States and worldwide.  Many powerful and intelligent women, such as Dr. Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, an environmental toxicologist who has spent many years researching the effects of pollutants from war on the public’s health, have supported Senses Cultural’s work.  Here now is an update regarding the issue of burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, an issue originally discussed this summer at length by Senses Cultural’s panel in San Francisco.

In June 2014, Senses Cultural hosted a discussion panel entitled “The Impact of War on Women and Children in the Middle East”.  During this panel, the effects on woman, children, and babies born since the war began was addressed in detail by Dr. MozhganSavabieasfahani, an environmental toxicologist who has spent many years researching the effects of pollutants from war on the public’s health.  She passionately noted that the smoke from burn pits and years of explosions are responsible for many malformations in Iraqi newborns. In December 2014 – almost 6 months after this panel in San Francisco- Al Jazeera featured the same damaging effects that burn pits have had on soldiers who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.  Dr. Savabieasfahani notes it is the same titanium and pollutants found in American soldier’s lungs that have affected Iraqi women’s bodies, as well as the newly born next generation of Iraqi people in such a negative way.

Dr. Savabieasfahani is a native of Iran, and author of the book Pollution and Reproductive Damageas well as over two-dozen peer reviewed articles on this topic.  As an environmental toxicologist based in Michigan, her interest in Iraqi public health began in 2005 after she learned Iraqi doctors reported rising numbers of birth defects and cancers following the war.  Dr. Savabieasfahani became largely involved over the next 10 years with this research, and has extensive evidence that the alarming rise in birth defects – she notes that almost 50% of children born in Fallujah have a malformation – has everything to do with a concurrent rise in war pollutants from sources like burn pits and metal hazards, which can enter mother’s body during pregnancy and harm fetal development.  The long-term effects of this exposure are various birth defects in the children of these women.

Al Jazeera’s report on war pollutants focuses on American soldiers’ ill health as a result of exposure to war-pollutants. However, war pollution exposure of sensitive Iraqi populations is often neglected and it has not yet been given the importance it deserves in public meetings or on international level. It is a scientific fact that pregnant women, growing fetuses, the newborn and growing children, who live permanently near sources of pollution, are more sensitive to exposure to war pollutants than soldiers who are exposed only during their military visits to Iraq. Mother and child health in Iraq and Afghanistan still remains a significant but neglected global health issue.

Senses Cultural is proud to provide a sounding board for female leaders, such as Dr. Savabieasfahani, on issues as important as these.  With more Panel Discussions scheduled for 2015, Senses hopes to create more awareness regarding complicated issues like war’s effect on the everyday lives of women in the Middle East.

To watch the full segment from Democracy Now! regarding this issue, please click here.  To read an article regarding this issue, published originally on Jan 14th 2015 in Tehran in Farsi, please click here.

by Silvana Gargione



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