Feature

Urgent medical care for Mosul’s sick and wounded

As fighting continues in Mosul, Iraq, Médecins Sans Frontières is on the ground providing lifesaving medical care.

Médecins Sans Frontières in Iraq Photo: Alice Martins
Médecins Sans Frontières in Iraq Photo: Alice Martins

The offensive to retake Mosul from the so-called Islamic State started last October, taking a staggering toll on the people of Iraq’s second largest city. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced seeking safety, while countless others have been killed or directly wounded in the ongoing conflict.

The healthcare system has also been severely impacted. Most hospitals have been damaged or destroyed, making it extremely difficult for those who remain in the city to access healthcare.

Médecins Sans Frontières/ Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is currently working in six medical facilities in and around Mosul, providing emergency and surgical care for those wounded in the conflict, plus long term post-operative care following major surgery. Teams are also covering gaps caused by the destruction of the local health system, including maternity services, primary healthcare, mental healthcare and malnutrition management.

‘A remarkable number of children’

Dr Kevin Baker is an anaesthetist from Darlinghurst in inner Sydney who recently spent a month working in a MSF trauma hospital to the south of Mosul. In just over two months since its opening, the hospital has received over 2,000 patients, more than half of them women and children and most directly wounded in the conflict.

“The injuries we were seeing were predominantly gunshot wounds,” says Dr Baker. “There was a remarkable number of children under 15. Many of these kids weren’t hit by a stray piece of shrapnel – but appeared to suffer sniper wounds. It seemed they had been intentionally hit. That was the most dramatic thing about this field placement: kids being shot, even toddlers being shot. That was an emotional experience for the team, and there were plenty of tears shed, including my own.”

Dr Baker and his team – mostly local Iraqis – focused on “code-red” patients: those with the most serious injuries such as gunshot wounds to the chest or abdomen. The operating theatre where Dr Baker was working is located in a shipping container on the back of a truck, which Dr Baker describes as “claustrophobic at first, but just brilliant once you get used to it.”

The stories of some of the patients whom Dr Baker operated on have stuck with him.

“There was one little boy who had a gunshot wound in the neck and had apparently laid in a gutter for several days. It initially appeared that the bullet hadn’t gone too deep, but we soon realised that it was no wonder he hadn’t moved, because the bullet had transected his spine at about the T2 [upper chest] level. He was still breathing, but is paralysed below chest level. We sent him to Erbil to see what surgery they could do, and there can be some healing with the spinal cord. But it’s hard not to think about what’s ahead for a little boy like him, how difficult his life is going to be.”

Unable to access medical care

As well as the countless directly wounded, the severe disruption to the healthcare system in Mosul has left many others unable to access desperately needed medical care, including people with life threatening conditions such as heart disease, or pregnant women in need of emergency caesareans.

In East Mosul, MSF runs two maternity services where hundreds of babies have been born since mid-March. South of Mosul, near the trauma centre where Dr Baker was working, MSF is supporting a primary healthcare centre, carrying out about 500 consultations per day.

MSF teams are also working in 17 sites for people displaced by the conflict, providing primary health care, treatment for chronic diseases (mainly diabetes and hypertension) as well as psychological and psychiatric care. Since the beginning of the year, the team has carried out more than 14,000 medical consultations and 8,000 mental health consultations.

Across Iraq, MSF has more than 1,600 national and international staff working in ten governorates. In 2016, our teams carried out over 195,000 outpatient consultations and over 23,000 mental health consultations.

Other projects around the world

As well as responding to the conflict in Mosul, MSF also works in around 70 other countries around the world. One of our biggest projects is in Yemen, where the ongoing conflict involves indiscriminate attacks against civilians, including hospitals. Around 1,600 MSF staff work in 13 hospitals and health centres in the country.

Another key focus is the armed conflict in north-east Nigeria, which has led to the displacement of more than two million people, and 500,000 malnourished children. MSF manages 12 medical facilities across north-east Nigeria, holding almost 30,000 consultations each month.

Globally, the vast majority of our staff (84 per cent) is hired locally in the countries where we work. Australians and New Zealanders, including medical and non-medical professionals, also make a significant contribution to MSF’s work with more than 200 field positions filled by Australians and New Zealanders last year.

How you can help

Médecins Sans Frontières is an international, independent medical humanitarian organisation founded in 1971. The Australian section was established in 1994, and is one of 24 MSF offices around the world committed to delivering medical humanitarian assistance to populations in crisis. Medical care is provided based on need alone and irrespective of race, religion, gender or political affiliation. We limit the amount of funding received from governments in order to preserve our independence, and in Australia we are 100 per cent funded by private donations.

 

If you would like to support the work of MSF around the world, or learn more about what we do, please visit www.msf.org.au or call 1300 13 60 61.

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