Thirty-five-year-old Ahmed sits in the crowded waiting room at the primary health care center in Hawija, in Iraq’s Kirkuk Province. Zainab, his 16-year-old sister, sits close beside him, nervously drumming on her knees with her fingers. They’ve come to the clinic—where Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) provides medical consultations and treatment for people living with chronic health conditions—to hear a doctor’s opinion on their mother’s hypertension.
The family lives in a village in the Al Riyadh area, not far from Hawija. For almost four years the district was under the control of the Islamic State (IS) group. After a long siege, a military offensive finally drove out IS in October 2017, but not before leaving much of the region in ruins. Now that the military offensive is over, many of those who fled are slowly beginning to return to rebuild their homes and lives. But episodes of violence persist in this rural region, and insecurity lingers along the highway, which is dotted with military checkpoints.
“My only hope is to get back to normal”
“The situation is better now, but we have a curfew at night and it is tough,” says Ahmed. “Two days ago, my mother had high blood pressure and I wanted to take her to the hospital, but I couldn’t because of the curfew. I brought her here today because I was told that MSF was here in Hawija and could help her.”
“When the IS group controlled the district, it was hard to find medicines,” he says. “One box of paracetamol could cost up to 25,000 Iraqi Dinars (around $21—the price has now dropped back to 500 Dinars, or around $0.40). Life was hard, but fleeing was even harder. The mountains were littered with landmines and explosives. Some of my uncles and their families lost their lives trying to escape through the mountains. I stayed behind with my mother, because of her health condition and to protect my home. The rest of my family managed to leave safely through the mountains. We could have been executed for that. Now, my only hope is to get back to normal.”
Hawija’s health facilities have not been spared the effects of the conflict. According to the Iraqi Ministry of Health, 35 percent of primary health care centers in Kirkuk are non-functional, leaving many people’s medical needs unmet.