Iraq Report
Baghdad hospitals in crisis

Hospitals and Primary Health Care Centres (PHCC) in Baghdad are facing a major crisis as a result of a lack of security and a shortage of medicine, equipment and specialised staff, say health specialists.

“A major problem affecting [Iraq’s] health sector is definitely the country’s desperate security situation,” said Nada Doumani, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told IRIN News.

“Armed men storm the operating theatres forcing doctors to treat their own patients, as a priority. Some patients insist on keeping their arms and masks while being treated. This creates a traumatising situation for the doctors,” she said.

Doumani added that as a result of insecurity, more than half of the 34,000 registered doctors in Iraq had recently left the country and hundreds had been killed. “Medical staff are often considered soft targets by kidnappers,” she said.

Ministry of Health officials said the number of doctors asking for prolonged unpaid leave was dramatically increasing. “We are getting desperate with the number of doctors and pharmacists fleeing Iraq for security reasons or because the infrastructure is not offering them the necessary equipment and they lack security. We have urged them to assist in rebuilding our country but their response has not been positive.

Instead, more professionals leave Iraq every day,” said a spokesperson at the Ministry of Health who spoke on condition of anonymity. In addition to insecurity, the health sector has also been hit by a shortage of basic and more sophisticated medical items. “The hospitals have not been maintained since the 1990s and very little investment has been put into the health sector,” said Doumani. Baghdad has 13 main hospitals in different areas of the city - all with emergency departments. It also has about 45 big PHCCs. Of the hospitals, only one, the Medical Centre City, is fully equipped.

Ministry of Health officials told IRIN that only one Magnetic Resonance machine is working in the whole of Baghdad and the other three machines available in the city need repair. “Our hospital is the main centre for emergencies in Baghdad and most of our equipment is not functioning. These include devices for tomography and ultrasonography which are essential for victims of accidents and explosions who are the most common patients these days,” said Dr Ibraheem Maroof at Yarmouk Hospital. “At present we don’t have needles to give injections or painkillers for patients who have sustained injuries caused in explosions or patients with chronic heart attacks,” Marouf added. The consequences for patients are dire.

“My wife died three months ago because of a shortage of medicine at the hospitals and because I couldn’t afford to buy her the required medicines from private pharmacies,” said Abu Zaineb, 42, a rubbish collector in Baghdad. “I just pray that she doesn’t become the next victim of our country’s deteriorated health situation.

People are dying every day from violence but now from a bad health system too,” Abu Zaineb added. Some of the hospitals’ infrastructure, especially the sewage and water systems, have also deteriorated and all hospitals in the city are in dire need of potable water. “Our sewage system is not working properly and sometimes the bad odour seeps through into the patients’ room.

“In the coming summer, the situation will get much worse if the central government does not take action,” said Dr Fauzi Ali, a cardiologist at Kadhmiyah Hospital.

ICRC assists overextended medical facilities

As the deadly series of bomb attacks and military operations continue in Iraq, claiming scores of victims, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is regularly delivering medical and surgical supplies to hospitals and other health facilities in various parts of the country.

In early February, the ICRC provided Al- Kindi Teaching Hospital in Baghdad with enough medical and surgical supplies to treat more than 100 wounded people. Similar assistance was delivered to Hilla Surgical Hospital and to Khanaqin Hospital, respectively 60 km south and 200 km north-east of the capital.

“With attacks being carried out daily, it is as if Baghdad were in a constant state of emergency,” Dr Adel Al-Shammari, the director of the 370-bed Al-Kindi Teaching Hospital, told ICRC. “We are doing our best to cope with the influx of casualties with the means at our disposal, with the support of the Ministry of Health and the help of the ICRC. Our surgical wards are always full and working conditions are extremely difficult. Of the 208 surgeons who used to work here, only 40 or so are still on duty today.”

Following the horrendous car-bomb explosion that ripped through Baghdad’s Sadriya market on 3 February, 125 injured people and 58 bodies were brought to Al- Kindi Teaching Hospital. The hospital’s medical staff were stretched to the limit and the number of bodies far exceeded the capacity of the hospital’s morgue. “We will have no respite as long as violence continues,” said Dr Al-Shammari, who deplored the fact that poor security conditions were preventing his staff from providing medical services the way they should.

                                                Copyright © 2007 All Rights Reserved.