Iraqi health ministry admits years of neglect triggered anti-government protests

Deputy Health Minister Jassim Al Falhy calls for international support as Iraq's medical sector faces challenges

Iraq’s deputy health minister said politicians in Baghdad have failed to address years of corruption and mismanagement, acknowledging the frustrations that have fuelled months of anti-government protests.

Demonstrations have raged across the country over the last four months, with thousands of young people demanding an end to years of poor public services and unemployment.

The protests have been met with bullets, tear gas and attacks by government forces.

"We admit there is negligence in our work and we need guidance," Jassim Al Falhy, told The National on Sunday.

The official said the government "needs to exert great effort to bring new people to work in politics and to govern with the utmost transparency,” adding that it took courage for his department to admit their part in triggering the demonstrations.

Protesters are calling for an overhaul of a political system they see as a corrupt and as bearing allegiance to Iran.

“The demands of protesters are all legitimate,” Mr Al Falhy said, adding that “it has nothing to do with sectarian divides but are merely to benefit the Iraqi public”.

More than 500 people have been killed and tens of thousands injured since the demonstrations began last October.

“The health ministry has received a great number of injured protesters but we have dealt with them in a professional manner despite the great challenges we face,” he said.

Iraq’s health care system, like much of Iraq's infrastructure, has been crippled by years of conflict, including the US-led invasion of 2003 that ousted former dictator Saddam Hussein, to the sectarian war that followed after and the rise of ISIS in 2014.

Mr Al Falhy says there is a lack of funding and support for the country’s health care system that has prevented it from reaching international standards.

Decades of war has triggered a wave of violence, which was described by humanitarian agencies as a “catastrophe on Iraq’s health care”. This led to an exodus of doctors and professionals, he said, especially as conditions for workers have remained dire throughout the country.

Corruption has also taken a toll on the country’s crumbling health sector.

“I think we have missed so many opportunities to move forward due to the presence of corruption in the government,” Mr Al Falhy said.

Health Minister Jafar Allawi has made it his “mission” to combat the epidemic, Mr Al Falhy said.

“No country can rise with corruption,” he said.

Another obstacle the ministry is facing according to Mr Al Falhy is providing quality health services to the Iraqi people, with primary health care services, maternity, general health and family medicine particular areas of concern.

Foreign investment would be essential for rebuilding the country's shattered health sector, he said, especially as medical and supply manufactures were destroyed during years of war.

Various multinational companies looking to invest in the oil-rich country have been discouraged as the threat of instability has stalled development.

Although the ministry is facing great challenges, it is currently following a “well-sought out plan to rehabilitate Iraq’s health and environment sector".

Empowering medical staff, enabling growth opportunities are also vital for the ministry’s success.

“We will continue to fulfil our duties, despite the challenges and shortage of fund allocations for the health sector," he said.