Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Patients Told to Buy Their Own Drugs

Hospitals woefully short of funds needed to restore them to pre-Saddam standards.
By Yaseen al-Rubai

The long-neglected health sector is so rundown that patients have to bring their own medicine and equipment into hospital.


The crisis in medical care is being fueled by a chronic shortage of drugs, damaged and obsolete equipment and decaying facilities.


A health ministry spokesman told IWPR that all hospital buildings and almost 90 per cent of health centres require repair or total reconstruction, the total cost of which is estimated to be close to four billion US dollars - more than twice as much as the ministry has at its disposal this year.


At one of the main hospitals in Baghdad, Medical City, senior doctor Abdul Ameer Mahmoud Mukhtar says much of the equipment is old and should no longer be used as it doesn’t come up to international standards. “ It's difficult to provide medical care to the large numbers of injured who reach the hospital,” he said.


It's a problem that extends throughout Iraq. "Hospitals in the provinces are very bad. For example, there is a hospital in Dhok that shouldn't even qualify as a health centre. Al-Hussein hospital in Karbala requires a lot of equipment and maintenance. I am not satisfied with what we have provided for the Iraqi people," said Dr Mukhtar.


In addition to the poor facilities, medical staff can be required to work in high-risk situations. Medical City is one of a number of hospitals that comes under frequent mortar attack. So far, there have been no casualties - a small grain of comfort for the doctors and nurses struggling to deal with the acute injuries that arrive almost daily.


One patient, student Noor Kamal, 22, was recently operated on after being shot in the head by an American patrol as she made her way to Mustansiriya University in Bab al-Muadham in Baghdad.


Surgery was a success, much to the relief of her parents and relatives who were not hopeful given the state of the facilities in the hospital.


“"We bought the medicine outside the hospital because it is not available here. The lifts are out of order. There are no nurses to provide post-operative care,” complained her father Kamal Abdul-Qadir, from the al-Sadiyya area of Baghdad.


Ammar Smaisim, a doctor at Shaheed Adnan hospital in Baghdad, said shortages meant that they regularly have to " tell people to buy medicine and equipment outside the hospital".


More than thirty years ago, Iraq was a pioneer in healthcare in the Middle East, but under the former regime and economic sanctions the country came bottom of the league table of health spending per head of population.


Moreover, Saddam even limited medical training, fearing that qualified doctors would flee to the West. At the same time, Internet use was restricted, preventing information sharing and the updating of skills.


Now, as the occupation and insurgency continue, the healthcare system sinks into ever-deeper crisis.


Khadija Sarhan lies in a bed at Medical City hospital, her left eye injured in a bomb blast targeting an American patrol near a checkpoint in Basmaya, about 15 kilometres south of the capital.


Doctors were doing their best for her, but she seemed very worried that her treatment was taking so long.


"I've been here for two days and tests and examinations are not finished yet. They brought me to Baghdad. There are no hospitals in my area that are able to receive serious injuries.


“I am a mother of two children. I am taking care of them after separating from my husband. I do not want to die, please operate quickly."


Yaseen al-Rubai is an IWPR trainee journalist in Baghdad.