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MSF in Iraq, 2007
Field Staff: 249
Reason for Intervention:
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Four years into the conflict, the gap between emergency medical needs and the capacity of Iraq’s medical infrastructure persists. Bombings and lesser reported sectarian violence result in devastating injuries requiring immediate and intensive medical attention, yet skills and supplies in many areas are limited. The economy has collapsed and approximately 50 per cent of Iraqi doctors have fled the country. The high-level insecurity and ongoing violence reduces direct access to civilian victims.
Movements are dangerous and people cannot access medical care or may receive limited and insufficient care leading to life-threatening complications. Unable to run direct medical programs with a permanent presence of staff in violence-affected areas, MSF has sought viable ways to provide assistance to Iraqis within and outside the country.
In the Kurdistan area, programs have been established in three hospitals in Dohuk, Erbil and Sulemaniyah to deliver surgical assistance and psychological support. One of the most common medical problems is skin burns caused by domestic accidents, failed suicide attempts or explosions. In Erbil, over a hundred operations a month were carried out, about half of which were war-related. In July, MSF opened a program in Sulemaniyah to care for burn patients and provide orthopedic surgery. By December, 738 patients had been treated, many for severe burns.
The adjacent provinces of Tameem and Ninevah experienced an upsurge of violence in 2007. MSF supports healthcare structures in these provinces with materials and drugs and enables referrals of severely injured war victims to hospitals in Kurdistan. MSF is also evaluating the situation of displaced people and providing basic humanitarian assistance particularly in the governate of Dohuk, where some 1,000 families received support during the harsh winter.
Operations in Jordan and Iran in support of Iraqi population
An MSF team based in Amman, Jordan, began offering limited support to five Iraqi hospitals in zones severely affected by the violence. This involved providing essential medical supplies including anesthetics, analgesics and surgical equipment. Some Iraqi staff also visit Amman regularly for training on life support protocols and mental healthcare in emergencies.
In Amman, MSF runs a surgical program in partnership with the Red Crescent, staffed mainly by Iraqi surgeons performing maxillofacial, plastic and orthopedic surgery. Patients have complicated bone and wound infections and six or seven operations are often required to restore functionality and a minimum quality of life. The project treated 281 patients but its potential capacity is limited by administrative obstacles and impositions on bringing patients to Jordan from Iraq.
At the end of the year, MSF launched a reconstructive surgery project in Mehran, Iran. The objective is to care for patients from the eastern provinces and south of Baghdad.
Confusing political and humanitarian objectives
Security issues make Iraq an exceedingly difficult context for independent humanitarian interventions. The US-led coalition and UN system blurring roles demand a reaffirmation of MSF’s strictly impartial and humanitarian character and an insistence on the need to preserve, defend and protect the integrity of humanitarian action from political and military objectives. MSF struggles to reassert and gain recognition for its identity as an independent humanitarian organization, separate from any political, commercial, religious or personal interests. In November, MSF reinforced dialog with all key stakeholders and warring factions to secure safe space in which to carry out its work.
MSF has worked in the current Iraqi conflict since 2006.