iraq security improves, security in iraq, doctors in iraq
John Moore/AP

Can Health Care in Iraq Be Salvaged?

August 27, 2008 10:55 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
Doctors are returning to Iraq as security improves, but they face the tall task of fixing serious glitches in the country’s health care system.

Doctors Drawn Home

According to figures released by the Health Ministry of Iraq, 618 medical professionals, among them 132 doctors, have been killed in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Additionally, hundreds of physicians have fled Iraq to escape the violence surrounding hospitals and the risk of being kidnapped.

But things have changed recently. USA Today reports that improved security measures and safer hospitals have drawn nearly 650 of the 8,000 Iraqi doctors who fled the country back to Iraq.

In early August 2008, the Iraq Health Ministry sent emails to doctors who had fled, requesting that they return to witness the improved security. At that time, 165 Iraqi doctors had already returned and resumed work in Iraq, Dr. Essam Namiq, a deputy minister of heath, told Time magazine. Doctors were offered a “package of incentives, including boosted salaries,” upon return, reported Time.

But despite how promising the situation in Iraqi hospitals may seem, serious deficiencies remain. For example, many children in Iraq are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but Dr. Haider Maliki says Iraq lacks the medical services to adequately deal with the cases. Maliki has no medical training, but has taken charge of treating children with PTSD.

Background: The war on Iraq’s health care

The violence surrounding Iraqi doctors and hospitals has been documented the past few years.

In March 2008, the Toronto Star reported on the case of doctors Rafid al-Nassar and Rasha al-Manahi, who were attacked and nearly kidnapped outside their home in Baghdad. The couple fled to Canada where they now practice medicine and are raising their children. According to the Toronto Star, the couple’s case is not unique, and nearly “70 percent of Iraq’s most qualified doctors have left since 2003.” As a result, Iraq’s medical system was “teetering on the brink of collapse,” forcing patients to purchase their own medicines on the black market.

In February 2007, INIR reported that Iraqi hospitals had become like mini war zones, overrun with “clashes between insurgents and U.S. or Iraqi troops, and between Sunni and Shia militias.” At the time, patients were too fearful to seek medical care, ambulances had been destroyed, and hospitals had been overtaken by armed groups, all of which made it impossible for doctors to work safely. 

In January 2007, Iraqi children’s doctor Dr. Salah Medhi Hamza was killed by his kidnappers despite the fact that his family paid more than $40,000 in ransom, along with jewels and gold ornaments. Hamza had been kidnapped twice before, according to the Independent.

Related Topic: Troop buildup in Iraq


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