Iraq: Thousands Fleeing Western Mosul with Acute Medical Needs

ERBIL, IRAQ/NEW YORK, MARCH 22, 2017—Tens of thousands of people are fleeing western Mosul, Iraq, amid a military offensive to recapture the area, with many wounded in the crossfire or suffering from other emergency medical needs, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

There is a lack of medical resources to treat the high number of patients in Mosul, and ambulances referring patients outside the city are unable to cope with the number of trauma victims and the long distances needed to transfer patients for further treatment.

"The need for emergency medical care has risen drastically," said Dr. Isabelle Defourny, MSF director of operations. "We have teams working around the clock treating men, women and children injured by bullets, blasts and shells. Other life-threatening emergencies also need a rapid medical response, such as for pregnant women in need of a C-section."

MSF medical teams are working in eastern Mosul, in trauma centers and advanced medical posts around the city, and in newly established camps for displaced people fleeing Mosul. Teams in and around Mosul have received more than 1,800 patients in need of urgent or lifesaving care in the last two months, 1,500 of whom needed treatment for conflict-related trauma. MSF started providing much-needed maternity services in eastern Mosul in early February, attending 100 births so far.

On February 19, MSF opened a field trauma hospital with surgical capacity in a village to the south of Mosul. It is composed of two operating theaters, one intensive care unit, an emergency room, an in-patient ward and other necessary support facilities. The MSF team working within the hospital, composed primarily of Iraqi surgeons, doctors and nurses, only has the capacity to operate on the most severe life-threatening cases.

So far, the facility has received more than 915 patients. Of these, 763 suffered war-related trauma, 190 of whom needed urgent lifesaving surgery, and 421 of whom were stabilized before being referred to other hospitals in the region. More than half of the wounded were women or children under the age of 15.

An MSF surgeon, Dr. Reginald Moreels, described working at the facility as one of the toughest experiences in his long career: “The situation is really intense. Every case we receive in the operating theater is severe, and almost every day we have to deal with mass casualties. Our patients can be of any age, any gender and suffering from any sort of war wound: sniper attack, mortar shelling, airstrike, landmine and other explosions. They are all putting their life at risk to flee a city under siege."

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People fleeing western Mosul report a lack of infant formula, food and clean water. Conditions are expected to worsen now that supply routes to the area have been cut off.

In early March, MSF started to see children from western Mosul with severe malnutrition. MSF conducted a rapid malnutrition screening in the Hammam al-Alil camp, which hosts 28,000 displaced people about 20 miles south of Mosul. Of the 486 children screened, 1.2 percent had severe acute malnutrition and 2.2 percent had moderate acute malnutrition. Similar numbers were recorded in the camp in Qayyarah, further south.

To treat these children, and in anticipation of more malnutrition cases, MSF is establishing an intensive nutrition center in its hospital in Qayyarah. So far 18 children with severe acute malnutrition have been admitted, all but one from western Mosul.

"It is urgent that malnutrition treatment be provided to meet the needs, and that those displaced from western Mosul receive adequate food aid when they arrive," Defourny said. 

Since the start of the military offensive to recapture Iraq's second-largest city in October 2016, MSF teams have been increasing medical and humanitarian assistance in Ninewa governorate, working alongside Iraqi health staff to ensure the population has access to emergency medical care, including mother and child care. In Iraq, MSF relies on more than 1,600 international and Iraqi staff for its medical and humanitarian work in 10 governorates. To ensure its independence, MSF does not accept funding from any government, religious committee 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.