Baghdad Hospitals Improve Slowly - 02.17.2009

Previously on Alive in Baghdad, our correspondents have documented the issues facing pharmacists and the distribution of medicine in Iraq. Following up on that, this week we examine the problems and opportunities for Iraqi doctors and hospital workers, as well as the patients themselves. There have been significant gains in the health care situation thanks to the increasingly stable security environment and several legislative efforts by the government, many problems with the health care system remain.

Even though it suffered heavily under the UN sanctions in the 1990’s, Iraq’s health care system was still seen as one of the more advanced in the region. This changed after the American invasion in 2003. The vast majority of Iraq’s wealthy and educated population, including the doctors and surgeons, were forced to flee the growing violence in their country. As the violence grew more chaotic during the occupation, the few doctors who were able to remain in Iraq found themselves the targets of assassinations by insurgents, their hospitals the targets of regular car and suicide bombings.

Today in Iraq the security situation has vastly improved, but the hospitals and medical institutions have been forced to, in the words of one Iraqi, “start from zero.”

The continued shortage of Iraqi doctors and surgeons is a constant stress on hospital staff. Many of Iraq’s educated population has returned as of late, but “brain drain,” either from the violence or from Iraqis fleeing the country, continues to be a strain. And while there have been many gains in the treatment of certain infectious diseases like malaria as well as improvements in infant mortality rates, Iraqis are also facing new threats from polluted water supplies to a booming cholera epidemic.

Despite these pressing problems, many Iraqis remain optimistic about the future of health care in Iraq. In this episode of Alive in Baghdad, we talk to several Iraqis: doctors, patients and hospital administrators, each of whom offers us a unique, yet notably hopeful,
perspective on Iraq’s health care system.

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