Five years of crisis: How CARE is helping people in Iraq

A family at a camp for internally displaced people in Duhok, northern Iraq

Five years after their violent expulsion from the Sinjar region, many families from the Yazidi community are still living in camps and host communities in Northern Iraq.

Around 1.8 million people remain internally displaced in northern Iraq – and most of them lack access to basic medical services.

Here Dr Karwan Saifadin, CARE’s sexual, reproductive and health programme manager in Iraq, explains how CARE is rising to the challenge.

What kind of medical aid is CARE currently supporting communities with?

CARE rehabilitates health centres in Ninawa and Anbar Governorate, in city centres as well as in hard-to-reach areas. Together with local authorities and partner organisations, we offer educational training for midwives, birth attenders, and other medical staff. In severely destroyed areas, we reconstruct clinics, rehabilitate damaged infrastructure and extend services by furnishing maternal health units, equipping laboratories and distributing medical supplies.

These services are very important because if we stop providing treatments and medical supplies, people would continue to suffer.

Usually, people visit primary health care centres and get referred to hospitals, similar to European systems. But during the conflict many primary health care centres have been destroyed, and people went directly to nearby hospitals, putting extra pressure on its medical staff. That is why CARE’s support with rehabilitating health facilities is so important.

Distribution of mother and baby kits in Iraq
In Zummar, Northern Iraq, CARE and its partner Harikar rehabilitated a public health care centre serving 159,000 people in the region by equipping laboratories and furnishing a delivery room. Supported by CARE, the centre’s medical staff treat around 4,000 patients per month. On a regular basis CARE also distributes hygiene kits helping mothers and their babies to stay healthy.
Khawater, a trainee midwife in Mosul, Iraq
In Dohuk, CARE supports young women from Zummar with midwife training. Khawater Muhammed, age 26, says: “This training would have cost me a lot of money my family doesn’t have. Even though I am more than 80 kilometres from home and miss my family a lot, I am thankful that I got the chance to participate in this training.”
Anonar, a hospital lab technician in Mosul, Iraq
In West Mosul, CARE supports one of the only health facilities by equipping the laboratory. Anonar, age 33, has three children and provides for her family by working at the health facility in West Mosul.
Shiraz, a young woman, pictured at a health centre in Iraq
Hoping to get married, Shiraz has traveled far to the only heath centre in the region, supported by CARE, which offers compulsory blood tests for young couples who want to get married. “Our wedding will be next month. It is the second time we are here, we already spent a lot on the drive, but we are happy there is still one facility left offering this service otherwise we wouldn't have known what to do. These tests are mandatory and the only way to receive the permission for a wedding,” says Shiraz.

What kind of challenges do doctors and humanitarians face?

A lot of human resources are needed, and doctors and nurses need training. Many hospitals have been destroyed and are therefore not operational.

The referral system is only working very poorly. Emergency patients might die on their way to the next health care centre. I only know of one intensive care unit in northern Iraq which consists of only a few beds and very poor medical service. When patients need intensive care, they cannot be treated.

Our main challenge is the absence of structure, the lack of capacities, and that equipment has been looted or destroyed.

There is no well-functioning hospital in Mosul, not in the city centre nor in the surrounding districts, which puts a lot of pressure on the population.

It is extremely challenging when you need to say “No” to a patient who is crying for help and your hands are tied.

CARE’s response

As of June 2019, CARE has reached more than 340,000 people with humanitarian assistance across northern Iraq. With special consideration for the specific needs of women and girls, CARE rehabilitates public health centres by equipping laboratories and furnishing delivery rooms as well as providing medical supplies and nutritional supplements to pregnant and lactating women as well as their babies. CARE also trains medical staff to deliver maternal health services and provide psychosocial assistance. Wendy Barron, Country Director for CARE International in Iraq, says:

As long as basic services like markets, schools and hospitals are not up and running, it is our responsibility to continue to protect [displaced people], to provide basic services and to ensure returns are only undertaken voluntarily, in dignity and safety.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.