Iraq: Healing Old Wounds from the Long Battle in Mosul

Hussein Amri/MSF

Ahmed gingerly moves his left foot up and down while lying in a hospital bed in eastern Mosul, Iraq. His face is gaunt and his speech labored as he exchanges a few words with the medical staff who watch over him. A doctor nods encouragingly at the patient’s slow but steady progress.

Three weeks ago, even these small movements were almost impossible. Since arriving at MSF’s Al Taheel hospital, Ahmed has received a series of surgeries and post-operative care for injuries sustained over four months ago in an explosion outside his home. Four of his neighbors were killed in the blast, but Ahmed was rescued by survivors who carried him to a nearby hospital.

There, Ahmed received emergency surgery to stabilize his condition. But shortly afterward, that hospital was hit by an airstrike. Despite his precarious medical condition, Ahmed was able to flee the embattled hospital to a relative’s house. But he could not make it to another medical facility for weeks due to the fighting that raged around him.

Throughout the battle in Mosul, emergency responders, including MSF, have provided life-saving interventions for the freshly wounded wherever it was possible to reach them, and first-line surgery remains critical for those caught amid ongoing conflict in western parts of the city. But stories like Ahmed’s reveal the often neglected medical needs affecting many of the hundreds of thousands of people who are trying to get on with their lives in safer areas of eastern Mosul and in camps for displaced people.

Many men, women, and children from Mosul are struggling to recover from months-old and only partly healed trauma injuries. Civilians walk with shrapnel still embedded in their bodies, hampering their movements. People suffer from old burns and gunshot wounds.  Patients who received external fixators to stabilize shattered bones now have metal pins protruding from their limbs, increasing the risk of infection. For these patients, the journey of healing from war injuries toward anything resembling a normal life is still long and painful.

Most hospitals in Mosul have been damaged or destroyed, leaving patients struggling to access basic health care let alone post-operative and rehabilitative care. MSF operates two projects aimed at providing these vital services, but it can only help a small proportion of those who require assistance.

Abood is a young boy receiving rehabilitative care at MSF’s project in Hamdaniya, around 22 miles outside Mosul. Having been hit by a bullet in his back while fleeing the fighting in Mosul, he understands all too well the life-changing difference that access to post-operative care can have. Initially, doctors warned that he may never walk again. “I was completely paralyzed… there was no hope left in my case,” he says. But after being referred for rehabilitative care with MSF, Abood is now beginning to recover the use of his arms and legs. “There has been a lot of progress,” he says.

For the countless others who cannot access the post-operative care they need, the future is even more uncertain.

Read more on medical care in Mosul: “There are No Heroes in This Story, Only Victims”

MSF is providing urgently needed medical assistance to residents of Mosul in eight project locations in and around the embattled city, including surgical interventions for the war-wounded, maternal care, treatment for malnutrition, and mental health care. In Al Hamdaniya, MSF has provided 275 patients with post-operative care, rehabilitation, and psychosocial support in collaboration with Handicap International. In Al Taheel, MSF has provided more than 175 surgeries, mainly for follow-up surgical interventions and trauma-related cold cases.

MSF offers neutral and impartial medical assistance regardless of race, religion, gender, or political affiliation. In order to ensure its independence, MSF does not accept funding from any government or international agency for its programs in Iraq, relying solely on private donations from the general public around the world to carry out its work.