Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) provides assistance to Iraqis

January 31, 2011

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) provides assistance to Iraqis © MSF

Seven years after the start of the war, Iraqis continue to be affected by insecurity, violence and uncertainty about the future. In the areas most affected by violence, people run the risk of being directly targeted or else caught in the middle of a violent incident. Bombings and assassinations continue in many regions of Iraq, and dozens of people are killed or wounded every month. Fear of violence has driven many people from their homes and resulted in their relocating elsewhere. Others have stayed, but are too scared to go outside, which limits their mobility and affects the social structure of their lives, with significant consequences for their physical and mental health. Independent humanitarian organisations still have only limited access to victims of the violence in the main areas where civilians live.

Although many health facilities inside Iraq are still functioning, the quality of care they provide has been undermined by a shortage of specialised staff and a lack of training – consequences of the ongoing violence and the previous international sanctions. According to the Iraqi Ministry of Health, hundreds of medical staff have been killed in the course of the conflict and large numbers of skilled personnel have left the country. Iraq is short of both nurses and specialist doctors, including psychiatrists and psychologists. There has been no upgrading of skills since the early 1990s. Iraq’s doctors once provided some of the highest quality and best resourced services in the region, but now the quality of some medical services is seriously impaired.

MSF has been running a range of medical programmes since 2006 to assist Iraqis, both in Iraq and in neighbouring countries. MSF currently coordinates its medical activities in Iraq from Amman, Jordan, where the organisation also holds routine training sessions for Iraqi medical staff.

Medical assistance in Iraq

Medical assistance in northern Iraq

Despite the highly volatile context, an MSF surgical team composed of Iraqi doctors is working in the General Hospital in Hawijah, a town located 80 kilometres from Kirkuk, allowing the operating theatre to function around-the-clock. More than 300 emergency surgical procedures are performed each month for both conflict and non-conflict related pathologies.

In the General Hospital in Kirkuk, MSF is supporting the dialysis unit with a team made up of both Iraqi and international medical staff. The objective is to provide a high quality of dialysis to 80 patients with renal failure.

MSF is providing more general support to four hospitals in Kirkuk and Ninewa by providing medical supplies and supporting emergency response and health education campaigns. MSF has carried out training in on-the-spot triage, and a functioning triage system has been implemented in all four emergency departments.

Counselling people with mental trauma in Baghdad and Fallujah

Iraq is critically short of certain medical specialists, including psychiatrists and psychologists. As a result, there is an almost complete lack of psychological care and counselling available for patients suffering from mental trauma. In September 2009, MSF opened a mental health counselling unit in Baghdad’s Imam Ali Hospital, followed by a similar unit in the hospital in Fallujah in December 2009. In June 2010 MSF opened a further unit in Baghdad’s Yarmouk Hospital. Working in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, the aim is to provide psychological counselling so as to lessen the mental trauma that many Iraqis continue to experience as a result of exposure to ongoing violence and the restrictions that the violence imposes on them. The mental health units are located within Ministry of Health hospitals, and hospital staff seconded from the Ministry of Health have been selected and trained to provide counselling services. In 2010, the teams treated 2,371 patients in 5,062 counselling sessions. The teams also carry out community awareness activities to introduce and explain MSFs services to the general public.

Improving mother and child healthcare in Najaf

In Najaf, MSF has started up a new medical programme to improve the quality of obstetric and perinatal healthcare in Al Zahra District Hospital, the main referral hospital for obstetrics, gynaecology and paediatrics in Najaf Governorate. According to Iraq’s health profile (World Health Organisation), obstetrical emergencies and neonatal care are both recognised as main medical needs in the country. Iraqi health authorities do not have the capacity to respond to these urgent needs, which has contributed to rising maternal and infant mortality rates. MSF staff will work in close collaboration with existing hospital staff, training them to use and respect control measures and sterilisation procedures, so as to help improve the quality of maternal and child healthcare and reduce maternal and child mortality in the region.

Medical assistance in southern Iraq

In Basra, MSF is supporting the emergency services of Basra General Hospital, where as many as 20,000 people a month seek emergency medical care. MSF is providing a variety of support, including training staff in the management of emergency cases and mass casualties. After supporting the rehabilitation of the emergency room’s operating theatre, where over 300 surgeries are carried out each month, MSF is also training hospital staff in peri and post- operative care. MSF is also providing support to the operating theatre for elective surgeries, where MSF teams worked between 2008 and 2009 to improve the quality of anaesthesia, post- operative care, hygiene, asepsis and sterilisation.

Healthcare for Iraqi refugees in Syria

Healthcare for Iraqi refugees in Syria

An estimated 4.7 million Iraqis have sought refuge outside their country. In neighbouring Syria, there are 215,000 registered Iraqi refugees, according to figures from the UNHCR, while many thousands more remain unregistered. Most live in precarious conditions and cannot afford to pay for medical care.

In August 2009, MSF started a healthcare project in Damascus, Syria’s capital, in partnership with a local organisation known as the Migrants’ Office. The aim is to provide free healthcare and mental health support to the unregistered refugees and migrants as well as to the underprivileged residents of the city.

The clinic provides primary healthcare, prenatal consultations and mental health services. In the first six months, more than 2,800 patients received medical care, including 400 pregnant women, and 280 people were given psychological support.

As an international medical emergency organisation, MSF strives to provide free medical assistance to communities affected by natural disasters, armed conflicts and disease outbreaks, as well as those suffering from a lack of access to healthcare. MSF offers neutral and impartial assistance regardless of race, religion, gender or political affiliation. MSF is an independent, non-profit organisation founded in 1971. Today, it is a worldwide movement working in 65 countries around the world.

In order to ensure its independence, MSF does not accept funding from any government, religious committee or international agency for its programmes in Iraq, relying solely on private donations from the general public around the world to carry out its work.

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