The International Committee of the Red Cross recently issued an alarming assessment of the medical conditions in Iraq. It described the situation as a crisis, with sick and injured Iraqis waiting for treatment in understaffed health care facilities. Others are too afraid to seek help because many doctors and hospitals have become targets of the insurgents….
Dr Omar al-Khattab fled Iraq just over a year ago after receiving death threats. At that time, he was working at Balad General Hospital, 50km north of Baghdad. “I had to leave my home, my work and my salary so now I’m living here jobless and am just barely surviving,” he said during an interview inside an almost bare apartment in the Al-Qudsiya suburb of Damascus.
“In my hospital alone, of five surgeons only one remains. We were three orthopaedics but now there are none, and only 25 per cent of the resident doctors remain.” According to the Iraqi Ministry of Health and UN statistics, Khattab is one of 18,000 Iraqi doctors and health care professionals who have fled the war-torn country since the US-led invasion began in March 2003. In 2003, there were 34,000 registered health care workers in Iraq. Al-Khattab said: “I know at least 10 other Iraqi doctors just here in Al-Qudsiya who have left because of death threats or the overall security situation.”
A general practitioner who was a resident in the surgical department at his hospital, al-Khattab is now living off his meagre savings and unable to return to his country. He fills his days by offering his services to other Iraqi refugees who cannot afford health care in Syria. It is also how he maintains his expertise while assisting some of what he estimates to be 50,000 Iraqis in his neighbourhood.