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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: Insurgents and criminals target doctors

BAGHDAD, 10 May 2005 (IRIN) - A new study by Iraq’s Ministry of Health (MoH) has found a high number of doctors and other medical personnel have been killed and kidnapped since the March 2003 conflict, seriously impacting on the health system, according to local officials.

The study, carried out between January and April, was released last week by a special commission set up by the MoH called the ‘Programme for the Prevention of Violence against Doctors’.

More than 160 deaths and kidnappings were reported nationwide in the study since January.

Dr Muhammad al-Hassuny, director of the programme, told IRIN that doctors have been targeted by insurgents because of their financial status and social prestige in Iraqi society.

“Since doctors have become the number one target for criminals in the country, the health system in Iraq has lost a lot. Most of the specialists who were killed were important sources of knowledge in our universities and thousands of them have left the country resulting in a breakdown of our public heath system,” al-Hassuny explained.

The director said that many doctors are afraid to go to work because of the lack of security and threats so they have opted to stay home instead, particularly in the capital Baghdad and in the governorate of Basra in the south.

As a result, local people in these areas have complained of inexperienced medical staff working in hospitals.

“I went to four doctors to find out what was wrong with me and most of them couldn’t diagnose the problem and in the end I had to go to Jordan. The good specialists have left Iraq due to bad security and the ones who are suffering from it are the Iraqis,” Suheyla Hassan, 34, told IRIN in Baghdad.

In addition, college professors in the main cities have left for neighbouring nations such as Jordan and Syria, leading to a general lowering of standards and a lack of guidance for medical students.

“The Ministry of Interior [MoI] should take action over this issue; they are the only ones who can change this. It’s getting critical every day and according to my reports, at least 30 doctors are leaving the health system every month,” al-Hassuny added.

During Saddam Hussein’s regime, doctors were prohibited to travel or leave the country. The ones who did escape had been expected to return to the country after the 2003 conflict to help improve the health system. However, the current security climate has meant that few have returned, leaving the health sector depleted.

Dr Nabil Amin, head of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Iraq, told IRIN that the study carried out by the MoH appeared to confirm anecdotal evidence that doctors are under threat in Iraq. He urged the government to take immediate action.

A US Coalition official told IRIN that it is a very delicate situation and they expect the Ministry of Interior [MoI] to offer special security for doctors.

Theme(s): (IRIN) Health & Nutrition



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