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Iraqi Doctors Struggle to Improve Medical Care - 2003-07-09


Medical doctors in Iraq have struggled under twelve years of international sanctions enduring isolation from medical advancements as well as governmental neglect. Now there are hopes in the medical community that things will be getting better. This emergency room at Al-Kindy Hospital in Baghdad reveals in a glance the state of medical care in Iraq. Doctors try their best to assist their patients in these difficult physical circumstances. American soldiers are outside the door protecting the security of the building, but inside, the system barely holds together.

Next door at Al-Kindy College of Medicine, the teachers are showing up for work even though they haven’t received full salaries in a while. Teachers like Dr. Manar Najim Al-Haddithi cannot support themselves.

“The majority of the doctors here, they’re depending on their families," he said. "You’ll see many of the male doctors, are still not married until now. No facilities. No money.”

The blackboard in her microbiology lab bears testimony to the last normal session here just before the war started. Classes were suspended for six weeks, but students are back now. She can’t get the proper specimens she needs to teach her course. Only the most basic study tools are available.

In this anatomy class, so essential for medical students, they share a single textbook as a reference for their exploration of the human body on the table. There are few textbooks here, especially modern ones. Many are copied over and over.

Dr. Al-Haddithi, 26, is looking forward to a different Iraq, one where she can specialize and advance in her profession. “At the time of our graduation, our names were put in prevention. We can’t get out," she said. "We can’t continue our higher study outside the country. We do not know the technology outside. This is very important for our patients. All the equipment in the hospital is old.”

Some things have improved. Al-Kindy Hospital has a steady water supply now, but suffers from lack of cleaning staff and an irregular power supply. The shelves of the pharmacy are sparsely filled. The old regime was not kind to patients here.

“At the time of Saddam, all the drugs and medical aids were stolen, you know, the Ministry and the fellows of Saddam," said Dr. Al-Haddithi. "So we have defect in IV [intravenous] fluids...drugs, all kinds of drugs.”

Given the adversities, it seems a small miracle that this hospital and its medical school manage to get through each day as best they can.