BLOG: Extreme Measures: Healthcare in Iraq Today – A Need for Reconciliation

by Katie McClain, Health Policy, Planning and Financing MSc Candidate

Iraq is the focus of many news stories, but these often overlook the basic human needs of the local people.  This past Wednesday, January 27, a large group LSHTM students huddled into a crowded classroom to hear Fabio Forgione, Head of Mission in Iraq for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), speak about the challenges of providing health care in an active warzone.

Forgione introduced the complex situation Iraq by providing us with a background of various geographical regions and stark cultural divisions that have ignited conflicts between different religious beliefs, extremists, and international players. Iraq is home to three main ethnic groups – the Kurds in the North of Iraq, the Sunnis predominately in the Western region, and the Shiites in the South.  In addition to these three groups, there is a large influx of Syrian refugees.

With ISIS gaining control of multiple regions, many people have been forced to flee their homes without any belongings in search for “safer” areas.  As of January 2015, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre has reported at least 4 million internally displaced people (IDP) in Iraq. These people are sleeping in abandoned buildings, tents, and many other dilapidated structures.  Providing health care to a displaced, mobile population is challenging.  Despite this obstacle, MSF has managed to develop a model of health care to reach IDPs. MSF’s delivery model focuses on assistance, consultations, distribution of medicine, and provision of psychosocial and primary care.  MSF aims to provide primary care services and refer more complicated cases to functioning, Iraqi hospitals.  MSF facilitates the transportation of patients to these hospitals through the use of drivers and ambulances, and negotiations with multiple armed groups to allow patients to pass through hostile regions.

Using communication, negotiation, and persistence MSF has conducted 219,800 outpatient consultations, provided 17,700 individual and group mental health consultations, and distributed 7,300 relief kits (MSF, 2015).  While many Iraqis have lost hope in returning home, MSF will continue to work towards meeting the health care needs of these displaced people.  It is unclear when these conflicts will end, but as Forgione said best, “the true resolution of a divided Iraq rests in reconciliation between the communities”.

For more information regarding the work that MSF is doing in Iraq, please visit their website: MSF Country Region – Iraq