Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) continues to offer reconstructive surgical care to victims of violence in Iraq's Anbar Province and from all over the country, despite the huge challenges posed by the complex security situation.
Since 2003, the ongoing conflict has had a profound impact on the lives of Iraqis all over the country. Victims of violence from all over Iraq are supported by MSF’s Reconstructive Surgery Project in Amman, the capital of neighboring Jordan, since the project was set up in 2006. It offers a comprehensive package of services, including orthopedic, maxillofacial, and plastic surgeries—often highly complex cases. Physiotherapy and psychosocial support are also provided as necessary, as well as accommodation during the patient’s stay.
A network of Iraqi doctors inside Iraq refer cases to the Amman project. They identify patients according to the surgical criteria, prepare and send patient files to Amman, arrange travel for the patients selected, and conduct post-surgery follow-ups once patients return to home.
Since 2006, over 2,000 patients have arrived at the Amman reconstructive surgery project from Iraq, including 297 from Anbar Province alone—and the waiting list of patients from Anbar is growing.
‘’The current security situation in Anbar is complex and difficult," says an MSF doctor in Anbar. "The conflict has led to the displacement of many families from Fallujah, Ramadi, and the surrounding areas. Tens of thousands of families have been displaced to other provinces.
"The security situation is hindering patients’ access to MSF doctors and makes medical follow-ups for patients who have returned to Iraq more difficult. Tightened security, including the closing of roads, has made movement to and from the cities hard for civilians. Although we are still able to refer patients from Anbar to the surgical project in Jordan, I now have to meet most patients outside of Anbar. I travel to surrounding areas like Salah El Din and Baghdad to see the patients.
"Doctors in Anbar are working in a difficult environment and are trying their best to be neutral in dealing with all sides of the armed conflict. Elective surgeries are now on hold in Anbar, with only emergency procedures taking place. In some hospitals there are deficiencies and shortages in medical supplies and working staff.”
Thousands of wounded people from Iraq have now benefited from the Amman Reconstructive Surgery Project, but thousands more remain in the country, unable to access the care they need. And with the deteriorating security situation, even those who have returned home from Amman face challenges to access follow-up and support.
Patient Story: Dreams Put on Hold
Diya, 29, is from Anbar province. He was injured in 2009 and was admitted to the Amman reconstructive surgery project in 2012. While returning from a family visit, a bomb exploded directly under the car Diya was driving. The explosion killed his mother, wife, brother, and son. Diya was the only survivor.
“It was supposed to be a nice family day but it became a day of family loss, thanks to the ongoing violence in Iraq,” Diya says.
“It was like a nightmare,” he adds. “I lost my one-year-old son, my wife, my mother, and my brother. I also lost the desire to live.”
Diya had multiple burns all over his body, head injuries, severe fractures in both legs, and injuries to his lower jaw. After arriving at the Amman project, he received several surgical interventions and was also supported by the MSF physiotherapy and psychosocial teams.
“I still have memories of the day of the injury,” Diya says. “I attempted suicide several times because I had lost the desire to live. I miss my family and even after all these years, I can’t overcome this feeling. The MSF psychosocial team helped me a lot to regain my passion for life and to ask god’s mercy for the soul of my son Qutaybeh, who I miss the most.”
Diya has successfully completed his treatment at the Amman project and was discharged in February 2014, after one year of first-stage treatment followed by a follow-up surgery in January 2014.
Now back in Anbar, Diya is unemployed and depending on his grandfather’s support. He hopes to one day open his own barbershop, now that his treatment is complete, but with the deteriorating security situation and the difficulty in finding an income, his dreams are currently on hold.