Iraq Report


Health sector suffers severe shortages

With scores of doctors killed over the past few years, an exodus of medical personnel, poor medical infrastructure and shortages of medicines, Iraq's health sector is under great pressure, a senior health ministry official said on 26 February, according to an IRIN report.

“We are experiencing a big shortage of everything. We don't have enough specialist doctors and medicines, and most of the medical equipment is outdated,” said the official
who preferred anonymity.

“We used to get many spinal and head injures but were unable to do anything as we didn't have enough specialists and medicines. Intravenous fluid, which is a simple thing, is not available all the time,” the official said.

“We have no neurosurgeons in Baghdad which has about five million people. Even with the security gains of the past few months, it is still dangerous for doctors and their families to step out of their houses,” he said.

He said no new hospitals had been built since 1986, at the height of the Iran-Iraq war. Since the US-led invasion in 2003, 618 medical employees, including 132 doctors, as well as medics and other healthcare workers, have been killed nationwide, according to figures from the Iraqi Health Ministry released earlier this year.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of other medical personnel are believed to have fled to Iraq's northern semiautonomous Kurdistan region or neighbouring countries.

Shortage of medicines

On 22 February the health minister highlighted the shortage of medicines: “The Iraqi Health Ministry is suffering from an acute shortage of medicines. We have decided to import medicines immediately to meet the needs,” Minister Salih al-Hassnawi told a press conference in the northern city of Arbil.

Al-Hassnawi blamed what he called an “obvious blemish” in the government’s 2008 budget with regard to the import of drugs for medicinal purposes. He said the 2008 budget meant total expenditure on medicines, medical equipment and ambulances would amount to only US$22 per citizen.

Expired medicines

Al-Hassnawi also blamed corrupt individuals for importing expired or counterfeit medicines and circumventing ministry testing procedures. “Only a small amount of the
imported medicines find their way to the ministry’s labs,” he said.

In the past few days a factory in Kadhimiyah (northern Baghdad) had been found sticking fake expiry dates on already expired imported medicines, he said.

151,000 died violent deaths, says WHO

A large national household survey conducted by the Iraqi government and the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 151,000 Iraqis died from violence between March 2003 and June 2006.

The findings, published in January on the web site of the New England Journal of Medicine, are based on information collected during a wider survey of family health in Iraq, designed to provide a basis for the Iraqi government to develop and update health
policies and plan services.

The estimate is based on interviews conducted in 9,345 households in nearly 1,000 neighbourhoods and villages across Iraq. The researchers emphasise that despite the
large size of the study, the uncertainty inherent in calculating such estimates led them
to conclude that the number of Iraqis who died from violence during that period lies between 104,000 and 223,000.

“Assessment of the death toll in conflict situations is extremely difficult and household
survey results have to be interpreted with caution,” said study co-author Mohamed Ali,
a WHO statistician who provided technical assistance for the survey.

Naeema Al Gasseer, the WHO Representative to Iraq, added: “Our survey estimate is three times higher than the death toll detected through careful screening of media reports by the Iraq Body Count project and about four times lower than a smaller-scale
household survey conducted earlier in 2006.”

The study found that violence became a leading cause of death for Iraqi adults after March 2003 and the main cause for men aged 15-59 years. It indicated that on average
128 Iraqis per day died of violent causes in the first year following the invasion, 115 in
the second year and 126 in the third year. More than half of the violent deaths occurred in

“Some homes could not be visited because of high levels of insecurity and more people
move residence in times of conflict. These factors were taken into account in the
analysis as they may affect the accuracy of the survey work,” said Salih Mahdi Motlab Al-Hasanawi, Minister of Health of Iraq. “Nonetheless, the survey results indicate a massive
death toll since the beginning of the conflict.”

Besides deaths, the Iraq Family Health Survey tracked health indictors such as pregnancy
history, mental health status, chronic illnesses, smoking habits, sexually transmitted
infections, domestic violence and heathcare spending patterns.

Another notable finding of the survey was that a worryingly low 57% of the women surveyed said they had heard of AIDS. That compares with 84% of women in Turkey and
Egypt, 91% in Morocco and 97% in Jordan.

 Date of upload: 3rd April 2008

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