IRAQ: Health system needs years of work

IRAQ: Health system needs years of work

BAGHDAD, 4 April 2010 – Much more time and effort is needed to improve Iraq’s health system and institutions, which have been battered by decades of conflict, underinvestment and neglect, the country’s top health official said on 3 April.

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“Our health facilities have not seen any development for 35 years. The last health facility built in the provinces was during the 1970s, and in Baghdad was in 1984-85,” Iraqi Health Minister Salih al-Hasnawi told IRIN, adding that these facilities had not seen any development since then.

At a health workshop organized by the US-based NGO International Medical Corps (IMC), the minister said “the process of developing them to reach international standards is a long and complicated one”.

The two-day workshop was part of IMC’s initiative to assist Iraqi government officials providing health care at the local, regional and national level.

“I think it will be an effort to move [health] facilities forward, but this is why we’re here to help the [health] ministry and Iraqi people and it may take months or years,” Gerald Evans, director of IMC’s health program in Iraq, told IRIN. “It’s a neverending process. I would not say that we have a benchmark approach, I say that we have a process started and that’s a success for us.”

According to the World Bank’s World Development Indicators 2009, life expectancy in Iraq was 65 in 1990, up to 71 by 1996, but down to 67 in 2007.

Impact of war

The 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq to topple former president Saddam Hussein was a big setback for the country’s health infrastructure, experts say.

“The war’s impact on the nation’s medical infrastructure can be seen in the trend in vaccinations against key diseases, which is a good indicator of preventive health care provisions,” Steven Levingstone, a guest blogger with the Washington Post, wrote in a blog on 30 March, quoting from the book War and the Health of Nations by Zaryab Iqbal, an assistant professor of political science at Pennsylvania State University.

He noted that immunization levels against polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus and measles had all fallen 10-20 percent between 1999 and 2005. “This trend of reduced immunization rates could lead to serious repercussions for the population’s health and the prevalence of disease in the future,” Levingstone wrote.

Al-Hasnawi said the government was working to modernize the country’s health facilities, draw up a list of medicines to be made available countrywide and facilitate health workers’ access to training courses abroad.

“Our health system is not too far now from the region’s other countries, especially after signing contracts last year to modernize health facilities with new equipment, including cancer-related ones, and make available all the medicines we need,” he said.



[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]