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Last Updated: Monday, 14 February, 2005, 00:06 GMT
Iraqi doctors battle shortages and fears
By Jane Elliott
BBC News health reporter

Dr Ghada Al-Daheen
Dr Ghada Al-Daheen says medical equipment is limited

Iraqi doctors are trying to save lives in the most trying of conditions - and with the almost constant threat of kidnap hanging over them.

Poor equipment and a shortage of medicines, together with a lack of text books, make life tough for the doctors, who are desperate for change.

Consultant gynaecologist Ghada Al Daheen, from the northern city of Mosul, told BBC News that she and her colleagues had been expecting things to become better after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.

But their hopes have not been realised.

"After the war we expected the sun to shine, but things worsened," she said.


She said that in her city, a hot-bed for insurgents, there was the constant threat of kidnapping and doctors like herself were worried they would become lucrative targets.

"It was really risky to go out of the home - we had to plan even to go to work.

"Kidnaps were frequent and increasing and it was a real risk to live there, but I think things might be becoming calmer.

"I am a target because I am a doctor. The fashion of kidnapping there is to go for people with brain-power and money."

The hospital surgical instruments are insufficient and we need ultrasounds and foetal monitoring, every thing is very limited
Dr Ghada Al Daheen

Dr Al Daheen is one of a group of 15 doctors who have been in various UK hospitals for more than a month to gain experience in their specialisms.

She said seeing how well maternity could work with the right equipment had shown her how poorly equipped her own hospitals were.

Lives were being lost regularly because of a lack of basic medicines and equipment to save patients, she said.

"We are short of a lot of things. Everything there is at the minimum. We are performing well despite the limitations.

"We sometimes get very very embarrassed because things are not there. A man died from a cobra bite because the antidote was not there.

"Our baby care units are very limited and if we manage to resuscitate the baby, we cannot keep them alive.

"The hospital surgical instruments are insufficient and we need more ultrasounds and foetal monitoring - every thing is very limited.

"In the UK, women always have foetal monitoring, but we do not have it. There is an ultrasound in each hospital - sometimes one or two, but they are never there in emergencies. They are only there between the hours of 8am-1pm, then they are locked away.


"I think our service staff, nurses and midwives need a lot of training. We wish it would come, we are hoping that it will. But we have waited too long and I feel fed up and tired saying 'I hope'."

She said their clinics were always full, with at least 50 babies being born in the city each day.

Dr Al Daheen said she had loved her time in London, spent at Guys' and St Thomas' Hospital, but it has also left her with a burning sense of injustice.

"For a long time I had wished to come to the UK because our tutors were qualified there," she said.

"But when I go here and there in London, I talk to myself and God and say 'we are human beings, why should our people live in such a miserable situation?'.

"I don't know who to blame, but it is totally unfair. To an extent, I am regretting going back again."

Dr Ali Kubba, lead consultant in gynaecology at Guys' and St Thomas', said the visit was a great chance for the Iraqi doctors.

He said it offered them a chance to learn new work skills and also experience a different culture.

"And I think for us British gynaecologists it is building a network in a way to do good for Iraq."

While in the UK, the doctors were offered the opportunity to register their hospitals with the Swinfen Charitable Trust, a UK-based charity which offers advice, or even a second opinion, on complicated or unusual procedures from other experienced doctors via email.

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