Iraqi returnees face tough health challenges in Mosul

From a lack of hospital beds and emergency rooms, to shortages of maternal, paediatric and post-traumatic care, thousands of Mosul inhabitants have returned to their war-torn homeland. 

Since Iraqi forces liberated the second largest city in Iraq one year ago, Iraqi authorities have yet to rebuild most of the devastated parts of the city, not to mention the badly deteriorated health institutions amid wrecked infrastructure. 

In a post-operative facility run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in east Mosul, Saqar Badir was lying on bed, waiting for a decisive operation to fix his right heavily-deformed leg, as he has suffered from two failed operations in private clinics. 

Saqar, a 26-year-old auto mechanic, was shot by an Islamic State sniper while fleeing his home in an IS-controlled neighbourhood in Mosul last June, and was rescued by other family members. Saqar wishes that he could resume work to support his family, who suffer abject poverty like most of the city residents. 

"Now I only live with the financial help of people. I came here to do the operation because I don't have any money," Saqar said. However, if the fixture failed again, he could encounter the risk of amputation, in a country which has no welfare support for disabled citizens.

"At the moment Mosul has a population of 1.8 million people and 9 of the 13 hospitals were destroyed. There used to be a capacity of 3,500 beds and now only less than 1,000 are left," Heman Nagarathnam, MSF's Head of Mission in Iraq told Xinhua. "Basic health care is not there, but there are huge health needs. A total of 70 percent of actual capacity in terms of health is no longer existing," he said. 

Catastrophic destruction was widespread in the old city of Mosul, where daily temperatures in summer can also reach up to 50 degree Celsius. Falling rubble, un-exploded ordinance, acute shortages of electricity, water, sanitation and a lack of other basic services, pose health threats to those who have returned home. 

"We have a hospital in the western part of Mosul. Approximately 95 percent of emergency cases are due to mines and ISIS booby-traps left in homes," Nagarathnam said. Talking about the far-reaching health impact, Nagarathnam indicated "a disastrous situation" could occur - given the fact that both primary and secondary care is absent in Mosul. 

Accessing health care services is a daily challenge for thousands of children and adults in Mosul, as the city's population is increasing as more displaced people are returning home. In May alone, more than 45,000 returned to their homes in Mosul, but the health system is not recovering and there is a huge gap between available services and the needs of the growing population. 

"We need to rebuild the health facilities here and also make sure they are available and affordable," said Nagarathnam, who called for national and international efforts to rebuild the health infrastructure in the city. 

Countless children, who were deprived of three years of education in Mosul under IS control, also require urgent mental health care to cure psychological wounds. 12-year-old Anas will never play soccer again, after a mortar shell left him paralysed. His mother also has severe psychological problems as a result of war. 

Gao Zhichang, a Hong Kong surgeon, was helping an Iraqi boy with severely burned hands and assured him both hands would function well after surgery. "Iraq is a war-torn country, there is a big health demand for the community here. That's why I am here," said Gao, who is on his 11th field mission with MSF. 

There also exists a massive demand for prosthetic limbs, rehabilitation care and training. In a physical rehabilitation centre established by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Erbil, around 100 km east of Mosul, Mohammad Abullah was struggling to walk again with an artificial limb. 

"I had quarrels with ISIS members because of smoking, then they started to beat me." Abdullah was forced to amputate his leg without appropriate treatment, after the beating at the hands of the terror group. "The number of amputee's increased during the fight against IS," Srood Suad Nafie, manager of the ICRC physical rehabilitation centre said. 

"A lot of patients with disabilities have reached out to our centre, in order to receive services after the liberation of Mosul and some from before then." Last year alone, more than 1,000 wounded people from the Nineveh province received rehabilitation assistance. Srood noted the trend continues, with more patients seeking help from the centre on a daily basis. 

by Zhang Miao and Jamal Hashim



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