Healthcare in Iraq – Is the Iraq Health System a Casualty of the Wars?

Healthcare in Iraq has a varied and chequered history. Following the end of World War I in 1918, a formal system of healthcare in Iraq began with the British occupation. In 1921 the first Directorate of Public health Services or the Ministry of Health was formed, and was formalized in 1959.

War, whether declared or just a police action has a way of devastating an entire region. Almost everything disappears into rubble. Basic necessities like food, water, clothing and housing cease to exist. With over 13 years of conflict so is the healthcare system in Iraq.

Iraq before Saddam Hussein had the most modern and best health system in the region. Their doctors, support staff, and hospitals offered up to date equipment and technology.

Then in the late 1990′s, Saddam cut the budget of healthcare in Iraq by ninety percent. Maternal mortality, increased by three hundred percent, and infant mortality increased by one hundred percent, and woman returned to wearing veils. Diabetes and cancer rates increased.

Diseases flourished while healthcare in Iraq was ignored:

Malnutrition and water born diseases like malaria, typhoid, cholera and dysentery were common. Tuberculosis and childhood disease ran rampant and people were dying as much from illness as the artillery.

Doctors were kidnapped. One hundred and twenty were killed. Then thirty thousand doctors, dentists and pharmacists fled the country. By the turn of the twenty first century the Iraq health system was in ruins, just like it’s war torn countryside. By 2003 the war had destroyed two main laboratories and twelve percent of the hospitals and seven percent were looted. More than 30 percent of the facilities that provided family planning services were destroyed.

To add to the Iraq health systems dilemma, the sanitary system collapsed and water born diseases increased again. No one really knows how many Iraqi citizens died but the toll was astronomical.

Help from foreign quarters:

In 2004 international countries contributed funds to help improve the system of healthcare in Iraq. Two hundred and forty hospitals were built as well as twelve hundred primary care facilities were constructed. A greatly needed new influx of medical supplies, including inoculations for children and an improvement in sanitary condition brought some relief to the poor war ravaged citizenry. The international funds were also used to educate hospital personnel.

Mayhem again:

Then hospitals were destroyed again, and by 2005, which left a ratio of only fifteen hospital beds, approximately six doctors, and eleven nurses per ten thousand people.

By 2006, blood banks were contaminated and seventy three percent of Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV or the aids virus) was caused by blood transfusions.

Health authorities in Iraq were unable to pay salaries and buy the drugs they needed. Patients had to pay bribes to get into a hospital leaving the poor without any health care at all.

It is very obvious that the reconstruction of the infrastructure of the system of healthcare in Iraq will not happen quickly. With the oil-for-food program now redundant (it expired on Nov. 21), the clock is ticking for the international community to deliver the necessary investment. It is estimated it will need at least 1.6 billion American dollars to repair present system of healthcare in Iraq.