Iraq's Hospitals Become Sick
- Iraq's Biggest Hospitals Become Sick
by Arkan Hamed and Dahr Jamail
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Inter Press Service
A man wounded in the twin car bombing is brought to a hospital in
Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Sept. 15, 2008. His arrival there will not be
certain salvation, nor will it be a sanctuary for his serious
injuries. The improvement that the American media sees, no one in
Iraq does. As with Baghdad Medical City, so with Baghdad, and so with
Iraq. The hospitals are just another reminder of a country that's not
working.(AP Photo/Karim Kadim)
BAGHDAD - Not even the elevators work now at Baghdad Medical City,
built once as the centre for some of the best medical care.
One of the ten elevators still does, and the priority for this is
patients who have lost their legs -- and there are many of them. The
rest, the doctors, patients and students at the four specialised
teaching hospitals within the building complex, just take the stairs,
sometimes to the 18th floor.
This is in a city that had been given dreams of great development
five years back, around the time of the U.S.-led invasion. And much
of the corporate-led media in the U.S. and Europe still insists that
the situation in Baghdad has "improved".
The improvement that such media sees, no one in Iraq does. As with
Baghdad Medical City, so with Baghdad, and so with Iraq. The
elevators are just another reminder of a country that's not working.
"It's so bad here that patients who are moderate cases don't come for
treatment at all," says Abdul Razak, an elevator serviceman at the
complex. "They just send a family member to describe their condition
and collect medicine."
It's a hard day's work for Razak when he is operating the
elevator. "The smell of my sweat mixes with the smell of at least 20
other people who crowd into the lift." It gets less sweaty to the
extent there are more wheelchairs.
Razak has been doing his job for the last ten years, the first five
of them quite happy ones. "We used to have a special elevator just
for doctors and professors," he says. "But by now most have left, and
some have been killed. I know three doctors who have been killed."
Past the elevators and up the stairs, it gets worse.
"There is no air-conditioning in the building, when temperatures can
be 48C, almost no qualified staff to serve patients, no antibiotics,
and sometimes not even basic material for intravenous treatment,"
says Dr. Samir Abdul Zahra, who treats patients while also doing his
There are no senior doctors around. "Most of them left because of the
situation in the city, the lack of security," Dr. Zahra says. And
that affects teaching as much as treatment. "We are educating
ourselves now. This means also that young doctors are taking on
complex cases they are simply not qualified to deal with."
This dilemma is particularly acute at Baghdad Medical City because it
is the largest medical complex in Iraq, and the most serious cases
are usually taken to this hospital.
At this complex now, it is not even safe to drink tap water any more.
Sometimes doctors cannot find water even to wash their hands.
Equipment is often not sterilised.
And the prescriptions they write can mean little. "Most of the
medicines we have here are out of date, and we lack almost all basic
antibiotics," says Dr. Saad Abu Al-Noor, a pharmacist at the supply
warehouse at Baghdad Medical City. "We cannot get medicines from the
stores because of lack of security, and because there is just too
much corruption all over."
Patients in need or their family members are sent out to the shops to
buy catheters, disposable syringes and essential medicines, Dr. Noor
said. "If the patient is lucky, he can find the items on the black
market. And then the question is if they can afford these things. The
price is ten to 20 times higher than it should be."
And finally, when all is at hand for the very few, and a doctor of
some kind is available, electricity is often lacking for serious
treatment. The hospital gets about two hours of electricity a day. It
has some generators, but these have to be cut out frequently.
The Medical City, located in central Baghdad, includes the Baghdad
University College of Medicine. The largest hospital in the complex
is the Surgical Specialties Hospital built in 1980. The second
largest is the Baghdad Teaching Hospital, built in the early 1970s,
which contains the out patient clinics and the emergency department.
The complex has over a thousand beds for patients.
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