Mosul's hospitals lack medicine and beds five years after battle against ISIS

War-torn city has about 1,000 beds to cater to nearly 1.5 million people

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Mosul’s healthcare facilities have yet to recover from the war to liberate the city from ISIS and doctors have been forced to see patients in caravans due to a shortage of beds.

Health workers tell The National that five years since the bloody battle to defeat the terrorist group, the reconstruction situation has not lived up to the Iraqi government's 2017 promise to revive the city.

Nine of the city's hospitals were damaged in the fighting, with one major facility, Al Salam hospital, completely levelled. While Al Salam has been rebuilt by the UN Development Programme, adequate health care remains out of reach for many people in the city.

Mosul once had 3,500 hospital beds, but today that figure is around 1,200, local doctors say. For a city of more than a million people, this is well below the World Health Organisation's international minimum standard of three beds per 1,000 people.

During the battle to liberate the city from ISIS, medical workers faced the threat of attacks on hospitals throughout the campaign as well as violence and intimidation by ISIS, who did not want residents to leave.

In one incident, Iraqi forces arrived at Al Salam hospital in the east of the city and faced a massive ambush by ISIS fighters. As the soldiers retreated, air strikes reduced most of the buildings on the site to rubble.

And this is far from an isolated case.

Five city hospitals are being refurbished or reconstructed, a public official said, and nine institutions are currently operating.

A medic disinfects his hands at Al Wahda hospital, opened by Doctors Without Borders in 2018, in Mosul. AFP

But scars from Mosul's nine-month battle remain visible across the city, with much of its infrastructure still in ruins and unexploded munitions complicating clean-up efforts.

Hospitals shattered

“Ibn Sina hospital was totally destroyed” Fayez Ibrahim, general manager of Ibn Sina hospital in the west of Mosul, told The National.

“I didn’t know where to put the machines and medicine first without damaging them, but with the help of volunteers, we were able to transfer them to another building.

“We had help from all directions, it was really uplifting.”

But five years on, Ibn Sina and other institutions are still suffering from the fallout of ISIS's rule and the war to liberate the city.

“We are offering medical services to nearly 3,000 patients on a daily basis in a hospital that only has 109 beds,” Mr Ibrahim said.

Ibn Sina’s emergency department has only 30 beds but has been receiving between 250-300 patients a day.

“We have many issues. I have 154 specialists at the hospital and we don't have a place for them to rest or to sit, there’s only space for 20-30 doctors — how can they take a break?” he asked.

Many doctors across the city are urging authorities to send more assistance and to place Mosul at the top of their priorities list.

“We don’t have a structured health system, public awareness is below zero and Iraq as a whole is in a shambles on all levels,” said one doctor, who spoke to The National on condition of anonymity due to security concerns.

“I cannot talk about the challenges that we face as doctors out of fear for our safety but it's all due to corruption and mismanagement,” he said.

“I don’t have any hope that things will change — things are becoming much more difficult, corruption levels have reached an extent where nothing good can come out of it.

“There is no justice for doctors or the general public.”

He added that the country has enough health facilities and supplies of medication but the government is choosing “to not use them”.

Children receive treatment at the Nablus hospital, run by Doctors Without Borders. AFP

“Iraqis don't need outside help but the issue is between ourselves, we don’t want to support each other and build a better future,” he said.

The international organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said in a report published this week that much of the city's medical facilities were heavily damaged and people are still struggling to gain access to inexpensive, high-quality health care.

The report added that Mosul's main hospitals have reopened in temporary structures and caravans and there are also supply and medication shortages. Far fewer surgeries per day are possible compared to before the war, as resources have to be rationed.

“Today the needs are clearly still massive,” said Esther van der Woerdt, MSF's head of mission in Iraq.

“The three MSF facilities in town continue to receive large numbers of patients coming to seek maternity, paediatric, emergency or surgical care.”

For another doctor, who has been working for more than two decades in the city, not much has changed, even from before the ISIS takeover.

“I didn’t see any change in the last five years, maybe other doctors have, but for me, everything has been the same,” she said.

“I’m sure there are plans to rebuild the city and get the medical system back on its feet but I don’t know why they were not implemented.

“No one seems to understands the situation to be able to solve the problem.”

Violence against doctors remains one of the most challenging issues facing healthcare workers on a daily basis. Many have chosen to remain silent about the many systemic problems out of fear for their lives.

“It is not only from the patients that we receive abuse but their families blame us for not being able to treat their loved ones,” said another doctor.

“This is really not our fault. I try to help as many people as possible but sometimes, this is out of my hands.”

Updated: July 13, 2022, 3:34 AM