Af­ter IS ouster, Iraqis flock to new hos­pi­tal Six physi­cians per 100,000 in­hab­i­tants

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

When it was ruled by ji­hadists, res­i­dents of Qay­yarah in north­ern Iraq had to travel for hours through check­points if they needed med­i­cal treat­ment. But this week, Mah­mud drove his son Mo­hammed straight to a new emer­gency unit in town af­ter a mine ex­ploded in the young boy’s hand while he was play­ing.

Be­hind the front lines of an Iraqi of­fen­sive to re­take the Is­lamic State group bas­tion of Mo­sul, Iraqis are flock­ing to the fa­cil­ity af­ter months with­out health­care un­der the ji­hadists. “Just a week ago it would have been im­pos­si­ble” to treat Mo­hammed, says the 35-year-old construction la­borer, sit­ting by his re­cov­er­ing son, whose nose tip was also burnt in the ex­plo­sion.

Med­i­cal char­ity Doc­tors With­out Borders (MSF) opened the hos­pi­tal last week af­ter Iraqi forces ex­pelled IS from Qay­yarah in Au­gust, pro­vid­ing Bagh­dad with a plat­form for its as­sault on Mo­sul fur­ther north.

Un­der IS, “medicine was dif­fi­cult to find. The only way to get treat­ment was to travel to Arbil” in Iraqi Kur­dis­tan some two hours away by car, Mah­mud says. MSF project co­or­di­na­tor Claire Ni­co­let says some chron­i­cally ill pa­tients in Qay­yarah for two years and a half did not see the in­side of a hos­pi­tal. “There is no emer­gency hos­pi­tal around here from Mo­sul to Tikrit” over a stretch of 250 kilo­me­ters (150 miles), she says.

When MSF opened its hos­pi­tal in the agri­cul­tural town last week, its some 100 staff mem­bers-in­clud­ing 80 Iraqis-were quickly over­whelmed with “med­i­cal and sur­gi­cal emer­gen­cies”, she says. “We’ve re­ceived around 250 pa­tients al­ready for the first week,” she says, wear­ing an MSF jacket, as fam­i­lies wait near a re­cep­tion desk be­hind her.

In a nearby room with painted white walls, two nurses busy them­selves clean­ing and ban­dag­ing the arm of Salem Shah­ban, 16, af­ter a mo­tor­bike ac­ci­dent.

‘Frac­tures, road ac­ci­dents’

Amid beds cov­ered in fresh white sheets, a Pol­ish doc­tor tries to dis­tract five-year-old Ab­del­rah­man Taha with toy cars while he ex­am­ines his arm. Zahra Kad­him, an emer­gency doc­tor from Bagh­dad, says she and col­leagues are ready to re­ceive all man­ner of emer­gen­cies 24 hours a day. “We get frac­tures, road ac­ci­dents, burns. We per­form all forms of emer­gency surgery,” says Kad­him, wear­ing a long white coat and stetho­scope draped around her neck.

Iraq long prided it­self in pro­vid­ing free health care for all, but af­ter the fall of pres­i­dent Sad­dam Hus­sein in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions ex­pressed alarm over the de­graded state of the coun­try’s hos­pi­tals.

In­ter­na­tional sanc­tions against Iraq in the 1990s weak­ened in­fras­truc­ture in the health sec­tor, while en­su­ing vi­o­lence de­stroyed hos­pi­tals and caused many doc­tors to flee.

Those who re­main to­day “are se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing leav­ing, like many other pro­fes­sion­als who are of­ten trained abroad”, a med­i­cal of­fi­cial in north­ern Iraq has told AFP, ask­ing to re­main anony­mous. The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion said last year Iraq only had six physi­cians per 100,000 in­hab­i­tants.

IS de­clared a self-styled caliphate across parts of Iraq and neigh­bor­ing Syria in 2014, im­ple­ment­ing its rad­i­cal in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lamic law in ar­eas it con­trolled. “The health sec­tor in ar­eas un­der IS con­trol has been greatly af­fected. IS had a neg­a­tive ef­fect on all as­pects of daily life,” says Kad­him.

But to­day, be­yond the se­cu­rity checks at the hos­pi­tal’s gate, life in Qay­yarah is slowly re­turn­ing to nor­mal. The mar­ket has re­opened and the butcher’s dis­play is lined with pieces of freshly slaugh­tered mut­ton. In the dis­tance, how­ever, dark black smoke bil­lows up from oil wells set alight by flee­ing ji­hadists now fight­ing Iraqi forces in the streets of Mo­sul. —AFP

QAY­YARAH: Iraqi fam­i­lies who were dis­placed by the on­go­ing op­er­a­tion by Iraqi forces against ji­hadists of the Is­lamic State group to re­take the city of Mo­sul, are seen near Qay­yarah, south of Mo­sul, on October 29, 2016. —AFP

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