What is the situation in Iraq and in the area you are based out of?
In Iraq's Anbar province, the conflict with ISIS has left scars in the form of families that have been torn apart, homes that have been destroyed and displaced people. Peace was restored in 2018 and families are starting to go home, but they often find that their houses have been destroyed or blasted by land mines. Some families have been accused of collaborating with ISIS, which occupied the area, and cannot go home. Little by little the Iraqi government is reinstating services, but security, education and healthcare still have a long way to go.
What is needed in Iraq and how is MSF meeting those needs?
MSF is focusing on healthcare for displaced people. We are trying our best to compensate for the temporary shortcomings of the healthcare system. In the camps for displaced people, our health centres provide treatment for general medicine issues and chronic conditions, dressings for wounds and mental health counselling. We adjust our efforts to meet needs as they arise. One such example is providing mobile clinics to assist people heading back to their homes. MSF has also formed a subsidiary to handle care for those with war wounds which includes re-education and reconstructive surgery.
What is your role on-site and what kinds of challenges do you run into on a daily basis?
My primary role is to train and assist MSF’s medical staff. The Iraqi doctors we work with are young and hard-working, but their training was cut short by the conflict. MSF pays a great deal of attention to the quality of the healthcare services provided, which isn't easy under these circumstances. The desert environment, traditional culture and medicine shortage are barriers to quality healthcare. It is very hard for a male doctor to get permission to examine a female patient, for example, even with a stethoscope. And female doctors are still rare.
What drives you day to day?
The living conditions for families in the refugee camps is simply unacceptable. There is no legitimate reason why these children should be living in a tent with limited access to education and water. MSF is here to provide healthcare for the families with the greatest hardship. This helps re-establish a modicum of social justice, which has long been lost as a result of consecutive conflicts. The mixed teams (composed of foreigners such as myself and Iraqis) create a stimulating combination that helps single out the most useful treatments for patients. Combining everyone's strengths is a modern way of making progress. The internal organisation and exchanges foster innovation, making the work environment very productive.
Do you have any stories to share?
Oh tons! When I arrived, my Iraqi colleagues were the very essence of Arabian hospitality. They even gave me a local tribal name! They said that having a first and last name wasn’t enough, you have to belong to a tribe to be whole. I also had to explain that Europeans could only marry one woman at a time. At first, they accepted my explanation, but shortly thereafter mentioned that I could make an effort to adapt to their culture.
Header picture: Ramadi is the capital of Anbar province. It is estimated that 80% of the city has been destroyed as a result of the fierce fighting of recent years. December 2017. © Florian SERIEX/MSF