Iraq's health sector under pressure

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.

[Read this report in Arabic]

"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 We don't have enough specialist doctors and medicines, and most of the medical equipment is outdated," said the official who preferred anonymity.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.

''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 We don't have enough specialist doctors and medicines, and most of the medical equipment is outdated.''

Since the US-led invasion in 2003, 618 medical employees, including 132 doctors, as well as medics and other health care 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 semi-autonomous 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.

sm/at/cb