Iraq: Stabilising emergencies in a pocket of safety

In Tal Afar district, north-west of Mosul, the lack of functional medical facilities is preventing the population from accessing healthcare. MSF has been expanding its activities in the area, opening a maternity clinic in October last year and recently a stabilisation unit and children’s ward in the village of Tal Maraq.

MSF started to work in the area in 2015 because many medical structures were completely destroyed and those only partially damaged lacked the basic medical material, drugs, and human resources. They were unable to provide healthcare to the population.

This little boy is eight days old. His mother Hala has brought him for the first follow up consultation at the Tal Maraq maternity clinic.
From the opening of the clinic until February this year, the teams
assisted more than 500 deliveries in the Tal
Maraq maternity. 
Photo: Karin Ekholm/MSF

 “The region here is visibly affected by conflict, says Andrew Cullen, MSF Field Coordinator. “Some places seem untouched, while others are completely destroyed. Although there has been no active fighting for more than 18 months, the population has difficulties accessing healthcare.”  

People in the area have to travel over 100 kilometres to the nearest urban areas of Dohuk and Zakho to seek specialised medical care.  A long trip that is not only too expensive for most people but impossible for many. As a consequence, medical emergencies can become very critical.

“We have started by providing care through mobile clinics, says Andrew Cullen, and then we identified the need to assist women in their deliveries. When we had to refer critical cases to other hospitals for surgeries, for example, we understood what people endured to reach the nearest hospital. The need for stabilisation and emergency care was obvious.”

MSF’s mobile medical teams have been running clinics in three villages in Tal Afar district since January 2015, providing general healthcare, mental health support, sexual and reproductive healthcare, and treatment for chronic diseases. In October last year, the activities expanded and MSF opened a maternity clinic in Tal Maraq. From the opening of the clinic until February this year, the teams assisted more than 500 deliveries in the Tal Maraq maternity, and a similar number of emergency referrals were done to Zakho.

In March 2017, MSF added an inpatient department for paediatric cases (children under 12 years) in the same building, as well as a stabilisation unit for adults with life-threatening conditions. This is in anticipation of a potential influx of people fleeing from the military campaign in the cities of Mosul and Tal Afar, and to address the current lack of secondary healthcare facilities in the area.

“The original plan was to open only a maternity, says Ileana Boneschi, sexual and reproductive health manager in Tal Maraq, “but with the stabilisation room and the paediatric inpatient department this is becoming a real hospital.


MSF has worked continuously in Iraq since 2006. In order to ensure its independence, MSF does not accept funding from any government, religious committee or international agency for its programs in Iraq, and relies solely on private donations from the general public around the world to carry out its work. In Iraq, MSF currently employs over 1600 staff.  

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