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Health Conditions in Iraq Become Alarming

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - Military vehicles of Iraqi security forces on a road during clashes with Islamic State (IS) militants in the Hamrin mountains in Diyala province.

FILE - Military vehicles of Iraqi security forces on a road during clashes with Islamic State (IS) militants in the Hamrin mountains in Diyala province.

The medical aid group Doctors Without Borders reports the health situation in Iraq is alarming. The group, known by its French initials MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières), says conditions are particularly dire for hundreds of thousands of people trapped in conflict zones.

Representatives from Doctors Without Borders just back from a mission to Iraq, report conditions in that country are grim. They say their medical activities are focused mainly in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq because they have no access to territories seized by the militant group Islamic State.

The United Nations reports more than 1.5 million people have been displaced in Iraq since the beginning of the year; about 900,000 are in Kurdistan. The rest, more than one million, are trapped in areas controlled by IS.

MSF Director General Bruno Jochum says living conditions for the displaced people in Kurdistan are appalling. He says most are living in schools, in public buildings, and in buildings still under construction.

He says some buildings he visited have no walls and pose a hazard for children. He says 6,000 people living in one complex have to share 20 latrines. He says they have no sanitation and water is scarce.

Jochum says the risk of epidemics of diarrhea, skin diseases and gastrointestinal infections is on the rise.

“However, the biggest concern we have is not so much for this population where actually there is access and the possibility to deliver assistance, even though it is insufficient and has to be widely improved. It is really more about those populations, which are trapped in areas where no assistance cannot be provided," said Jochum.

Those areas include the cities of Tikrit and Hawijah. Jochum says Doctors Without Borders cannot organize relief convoys into traditional Sunni areas because of security concerns and the many checkpoints and other physical obstacles that make it impossible to deliver aid.

MSF Project Director Gustavo Fernandez says not enough emphasis is being placed on the humanitarian consequences for people forced to flee their homes.

"We have one million individuals trapped in conflict areas, but actually no meaningful discussion of how to make some assistance in that area or shed some bit of light on what sort of discussions are happening today. When we see medical facilities that have to close their doors for the few that are trapped in conflict areas and there is no real reaction to do that. It also is an example of how this crisis is addressed today. It is much more on geopolitical terms rather than in human terms," said Fernandez.

MSF officials warn the situation is bound to get worse. They say several hospitals and medical facilities have been bombed and are out of service. They say many doctors and other medical personnel have fled the country.

The aid officials say there is a shortage of medicine and supplies and many people traumatized by the upheaval in their lives are unable to get counseling.