First-hand accounts of Iraqi health workers

10 August 2007

During a recent workshop in Amman, a number of Iraqi health care professionals were approached to give first-hand accounts of the challenges they face in their work. Their stories - as presented in these quotes from the interviews - reflect their incredible strength and resilience in dealing with the constant danger of being injured or killed as they negotiate bomb attacks and curfew restrictions to attend to the needs of the vulnerable. (Names and other details have been withheld to protect the interviewees' identity.)

Vaccinating in 'hot' areas

A health official giving polio vaccinations to children in Baghdad, Iraq
A health official gives polio vaccinations to children in Baghdad.

"Regardless of all the difficulties we face, I still see that people exhibit loyalty and remain steadfast in their duty to help the vulnerable; this spirit is an invaluable component whose continued existence reflects an ability to deal with extraordinary situations. This is illustrated in the polio vaccination campaigns in which more than 5 million children under the age of five were reached. Several colleagues were killed during the programme, the success of which is owed largely to the ability to adapt to the situation at hand, which in this example, entailed using fixed vaccinating teams in 'hot areas' like Al-Karkh district in Baghdad."

Help from communities

"Despite the poor security situation, communities are still willing to come together to help the vulnerable. On one occasion, a boy was hit by a stray bullet as he was standing in the doorway of his house. The neighbours helped transport this wounded teenager to Ibn al Nafees hospital where he was treated and saved, an indicator that in the same way that all doctors present try their utmost to fulfil their obligations and more often than not go far beyond the call of duty, communities are honouring their role of stepping into the vacuum left by the over-burdened emergency medical services."

Trust in health care providers

Iraqi man receiving treatment in a hospital, Iraq
An Iraqi injured in a suicide bomb attack receives treatment in a hospital in Hillah city.

"Though I have been threatened by disgruntled employees in the past and continue to fear for my safety due to the poor security situation, I have never experienced any form of gender discrimination that has hindered my progress as a female doctor. Generally, the public has trust in the medical providers, particularly in nurses and vaccinators who continue to work despite the constant threats made against them. The successes of the polio and MMR vaccination programmes are testament to the dedication of these brave people."

Procurement of medicines and supplies

Iraqi doctor preparing injection to vaccinate a girl, Iraq
An Iraqi doctor prepares an injection to vaccinate a girl.

"Though transport has become extremely difficult, medicines, vaccinations and supplies continue to reach us. At times it is near impossible to get these supplies to centres in the 'hot areas'. However, it is encouraging that vaccinations are being procured from excellent sources, a vast improvement when compared to previous years."

"None of the health centres in my district has closed, reflecting on the sheer will of the brave doctors and nurses who keep them running. However, we often face difficulties in supplying to centres such as Mikaneek in Dora due to the prevailing security situation."

Altruism of patients

Health official taking blood pressure of an Iraqi woman, Iraq
A health official takes the blood pressure of an Iraqi woman in a remote village.

"We have faced major problems in trying to combat the social stigma surrounding TB, and its subsequent adverse psychological effects on sufferers. One patient, who had returned to good health, donated chocolates to other TB-sufferers, a gesture that had important implications for the psychological wellbeing of the patients. Coming from a source they can relate to, from someone who has experienced the difficulties they themselves are going through, it signified that the struggles they face are surmountable and can be overcome. The effects were uplifting, seeing the change in patients and the confidence they gained in confronting their illness gave me, as their doctor, the reinforcement I need to carry out my work effectively. That altruistic moment from a cured TB sufferer will forever stay with me."

Striving for a better future

A girl resting in a Baghdad hospital, Iraq
A girl rests in a Baghdad hospital after being treated for an injury.

"The situation is difficult, but I will continue to be thankful because there are people who continue to do all they can to work for a better future."

"Despite the current situation and all the obstacles we face in performing our duties, we all strive to carry out what is required of us."

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