After years of economic sanctions and wars, the Iraqi healthcare infrastructure is tottering, but that also makes the sector ripe for investment. 

In the first three days of the 38th Arab Health exhibition in Dubai, a delegation from the Iraqi ministry of health met more than 100 companies, including ones based in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, China and India, who have shown interest in doing business in Iraq, said the ministry spokesman Nazar Al Helaly.

"Especially the last war destroyed everything and that's why we have to build the country from zero," he said. "So, Iraq is a very good market for everything." Some of the big-ticket projects under construction include Al Bayaa Teaching Hospital in Baghdad for US$210 million (Dh771.3m) and Fallujah Maternity and Children's Hospital as part of a plan to build 11 hospitals. 

The German Medical Services and Turkey's Universal Hospitals Group have signed contracts with the Iraqi ministry of health to build six 100-bed hospitals and two hospital clinics. The Germans are working on two 500-bed hospitals: Al Najaf Hospital and Cancer Therapy Centre and Al Ninevah Teaching Hospital in Mosul. 

The US Agency for International Development is building 360 primary healthcare centres in 18 provinces as part of a $74m project. An $828m Japanese grant is being used to implement medical programmes. The Iraqi health ministry is also planning to build a 300-bed paediatric hospital in Karbala and three more teaching hospitals with 400 beds each. 

At its fourth appearance at the Arab Health exhibition, the Iraqi ministry brought a team of 22 consultants, who are meeting companies looking to invest in the country. Iraq's medical experts who had left the country following decades of instability are planning to come back, said Mr Al Helaly. 

"We have a shortage of nurses, anaesthetists and doctors," he added. "We have brought hundreds of Indian nurses and [are] applying for Filipino nurses." Despite the perceptions, they are not targets of violence, he said. 

"We are safe and our hospitals are safe," he said, denying news reports that quoted medical staff in the country saying the situation on the ground has not much improved from its war-torn days. The latest figures from 2010 show that 8 per cent of Iraq's GDP is spent on health care, according to the World Health Organisation. 

The same year, there were only 13 hospital beds per 10,000 people. Iraq earmarked $6 billion for the healthcare sector last year from the proposed budget $112bn, according to news reports. 

by Sananda Sahoo



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