Crisis Update – October 2015

Shrinking aid for ever more people in need

Iraq is experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis in decades. Increasing violence in Iraq since 2013 has resulted in the displacement of over three million people, who often have very little access to healthcare services. These numbers are in addition to the 250,000 Syrian refugees who have fled to Iraq since 2012. Infrastructure and medical facilities in some war-torn areas have been destroyed leaving the local population with no access to medical care.

Humanitarian response has so far been insufficient, concentrated in safer areas and short term. Recent cuts in funding have been increasingly affecting the level of assistance offered to Syrian refugees, displaced populations and host communities. Some areas are completely neglected and many people have no access to even basic healthcare. Specifically in those areas, populations affected by the crisis are in urgent need of neutral and impartial humanitarian aid.

MSF’s response to the successive large-scale waves of displacement has been made possible by its established operational presence in the country since 2006 and its independent funding. MSF is constantly adapting and increasing its medical and humanitarian response to a crisis that shows no signs of ending. MSF is currently working in 11 governorates across Iraq in order to provide impartial and free medical care to people affected by the conflict.

Medical activities

Most of the health problems seen by MSF’s medical teams are related to people’s poor living conditions, including respiratory and urinary infections, gastro-intestinal problems, diarrhoea, arthritis and skin diseases. Others were suffering from chronic diseases, particularly hypertension and diabetes, but had seen their treatments interrupted due to the security situation and/or displacement.In the first six months of 2015, MSF teams carried out 126,722 medical consultations in Iraq. From the onset of the current crisis, MSF has deployed mobile medical teams to reach the most vulnerable groups of people. They provide free-of-charge general healthcare, with a focus on chronic diseases, reproductive health and mental health. Where needed, they refer patients to hospital for specialist care.

A team of psychotherapists offers mental health support to people traumatised by recurrent violence who have been facing protracted harsh living conditions, fear and an uncertain future, and still cannot access medical care because their movements are restricted and their security is at risk.

Since September, MSF has been working in collaboration with the Ministry of Health to contain a cholera outbreak in Baghdad district (Abu Ghraib area) and the governorates of Diwaniya, Najaf and Babil.

Mobile teams provide healthcare in hard-to-reach areas

MSF’s medical teams have been working in northern Iraq across Ninewa, Erbil, Dohuk, Kirkuk, Sulaymaniyah, Diyala, Salah Al Din and Baghdad governorates, in collaboration with local health authorities. MSF’s mobile teams work as close as possible to the frontlines, where infrastructure has been badly damaged and services are lacking. They provide much-needed health services to displaced people, returnees and host communities who otherwise have limited access to healthcare and who often need to travel great distances and potentially risk their lives to access medical assistance.

MSF also works in the southern governorates of Babil, Kerbala and Najaf, providing humanitarian aid and mental healthcare to thousands of displaced people from governorates including Ninewa and Anbar. MSF is also contributing to fighting an outbreak of scabies among the displaced people in the area.

Ensuring a comprehensive humanitarian response

MSF is supporting people living in villages and precarious urban settings by distributing essential relief items, such as hygiene kits and tents, providing clean water and installing latrines, showers and washing areas. Emergency interventions are carried out in response to epidemics that range from scabies to cholera. Good sanitation is particularly important in the summer months, when rising temperatures increase the risk of epidemics. As temperatures drop in the winter months, MSF teams have distributed blankets to people in Salah Al Din, Diyala, Anbar, Baghdad, Kirkuk, Kerbala, Najaf, Wassit and Babil governorates.

Healthcare for Syrian refugees

Since May 2012, MSF has been the main humanitarian organisation providing medical services, in collaboration with the Directorate of Health of Dohuk, to Syrian refugees in Domiz camp, the largest refugee camp in Iraq

In its clinic in Domiz refugee camp, the MSF team provides round-the-clock emergency care, with referrals for patients who need specialised treatment. Our staff also provide general medical consultations, sexual and reproductive healthcare and mental healthcare, treat non-communicable diseases, and run health promotion activities. 

In August 2014, in response to increasing needs, MSF opened a maternity unit in the camp where women can deliver their babies safely and access reproductive healthcare. 

In Erbil governorate, a team of MSF psychologists and psychiatrists provide mental healthcare to Syrian refugees in the Kawargosk, Gawilan and Darashakran camps.


Since August 2006, a network of Iraqi doctors has been referring victims of violence from all over Iraq to MSF’s reconstructive surgery hospital in Amman, Jordan. The surgical team specialises in highly complex surgery requiring multiple stages of treatment, in particular maxillofacial surgery (dealing with the head, neck, face, jaw and sinuses), orthopaedic surgery and surgery for patients with severe burns. Patients also receive physiotherapy and psychosocial support.

Training of Iraqi medical and para-medical staff
Periodically MSF also organises medical training programmes for Iraqi doctors in association with the Iraqi Ministry of Health. In early 2015, 12 Iraqi physiotherapists attended a 10-week-long training session in early physiotherapy.  

Over recent years, MSF has also supported the Baghdad-based Poisoning Control Centre (PCC) by providing antidotes that are difficult for the Ministry of Health to obtain.