Middle East

Displaced Iraqis lack crucial medicines

IRBIL, Iraq: Milad was an operating theater nurse in Qaraqosh before jihadists seized Iraq’s largest Christian town. Now he compiles long lists of medicines that his fellow displaced Iraqis sorely lack. He fled the turmoil in the territory north of Baghdad held by the jihadist group ISIS since June to take refuge in Iraqi Kurdish territory further north.

After having abandoned all but the bare essentials in the face of the ISIS-led advance, many of the displaced in the Kurdish regional capital of Irbil have set up camp in public gardens, in schools and outside churches.

The United Nations says an estimated 1.8 million Iraqis have been displaced by violence in the country this year.

In their dash to escape the brutality of the jihadists, few had time to gather medical files or prescriptions essential to treating their ailments.

So since his own arrival in Irbil Aug. 8, Milad spends a good part of each morning touring an assortment of makeshift camps to assess medical needs and shortages. Children and old people are constantly brought forward with their needs for medication – in scant supply despite countries such as France and Austria having flown in consignments.

Aid organizations have been able to draw up lists and evaluate needs in the large refugee camps that have sprouted up across Iraqi Kurdistan.

Milad homes in on the smaller camps, which can still house as many as 300 displaced people.

He fills sheets of paper with a catalogue of medical complaints: a child with heart problems, another whose parents say has a brain “that’s not working properly,” a blind man ... the list goes on and on.

At the end of his tours, Milad delivers the information he has gathered to Dr. Laith Hababa, who visits the next day with whatever medicine he can muster up.

Hababa, a Qaraqosh native, also puts in shifts as a volunteer doctor in the afternoons at the Habib Malh Health Center in Irbil, having been granted permission to use the facility after its operating hours.

Word spread fast of his cost-free consultations, and he and a small team of other volunteers now see between 400 and 600 patients a day.

“The big challenge is to get hold of medication,” Hababa said.

During Milad’s tour through a hall used in normal times for wedding receptions, several women came forward clutching half-empty packets of pills in their hands and asking for refills.

“When we fled [Qaraqosh] we left everything behind: the examinations, the X-rays ... We just took some medicine,” said the grandmother of Sada, a 3-year-old girl with a brain disease.

The small child, who is not able to walk, was stretched out in the heat on a mattress on the ground.

Nearby, 46-year-old Sana said she suffers from elephantiasis and showed the documentation to prove it. Milad took note and tore off another sheet of paper, adding it to a compendium of conditions and requests for medication.

The situation is precarious in the large camps.

“And we are coming up to winter ... Everybody will have health issues,” said Valley Edwar, who runs the clinic of St. Joseph’s Church in Ankawa, a suburb of Irbil.

Edwar said the proximity in which camp dwellers are obliged to live encourages the spread of skin diseases and other sicknesses.

“Fortunately, for now there’s no epidemic,” said Dr. Saman Hussein Barzanghy, director-general of health services in Irbil province.

But another doctor, Saleh Dabbakeh of the Red Cross, cautioned: “The seasons change and health problems start, especially as these people are living in groups.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 18, 2014, on page 9.

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