MSF medical diagnosis on Iraq

MSF

There are of course still significant problems, particularly now in Baghdad, where there is still no big hospital fully functioning. Those problems are mainly linked to a lack of organisation, a lack of leadership. There is a power vacuum and this is particularly affecting the health sector.

MSF has been working in Iraq for five weeks now, only interrupted by the imprisonment of two volunteers by the Iraqi authorities during the height of the fighting. Much of that work has been in hospitals, directly with patients and trying to identify the most critical needs of the health system, which has been under strain in the war.

We have now done a lot of brief assessments, covering ten cities, and we are getting more of an overview. We need to look in more detail at morbidity and mortality figures but it is telling that after two weeks of MSF has not found huge medical needs or a reason to describe this as a major humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq.

There are of course still significant problems, particularly now in Baghdad, where there is still no big hospital fully functioning. Those problems are mainly linked to a lack of organisation, a lack of leadership. There is a power vacuum and this is particularly affecting the health sector. It is up to the occupying power to solve this. We had expected that after two weeks of American control in Baghdad we would have seen an end to this administrative chaos.

So there is a crisis in the health sector. What I would question though is whether it justifies this description of humanitarian catastrophe. It is still a bit early for MSF to draw any final conclusion, we are still looking for more information but it is a bit provoking for me to see how all of the world's attention has been brought to this situation in Iraq, when at the same time we are really struggling with tremendous humanitarian crises in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Ivory Coast, in Liberia, in South Sudan, where there is increased malnutrition.

We have not seen any signs of famine or epidemics in Iraq, we have not seen any mass displacements of people; these usual signs of disasters. So I would not call the current situation in Iraq a huge medical humanitarian crisis.

There are real needs though in Iraq. There are many patients with chronic diseases who cannot get their medicines. Some people will need secondary surgery for their war injuries. There was a lack of oxygen supplies and of anaesthetic drugs. Salaries for the health workers are a major issue. The administrative chaos is very, very important to solve. But if you can get these things running, the Iraqi doctors are skilled and the medical system is relatively advanced, they will be able to cope.