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Iraqis Split on Sectarian Lines; Hospitals Follow

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Iraqis Split on Sectarian Lines; Hospitals Follow

Iraq

Iraqis Split on Sectarian Lines; Hospitals Follow

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The rise in sectarian violence in Baghdad has put extreme pressure on the city's hospitals. Emergency rooms are overwhelmed. Drugs and equipment are in short supply. And many hospitals lack basic services, like electricity or water. And the Iraq medical association, that country's equivalent of the AMA, says that over half of Iraq's 34,000 doctors have fled the country and another 2000 have reportedly been killed.

Darh Jamail has been covering Iraq's health care system for Inter Press Service. That's a nonprofit news service that focuses on developing countries. He joins us now. And Darh, you've visited 13 hospitals in Iraq during the course of your reporting. What's the state of healthcare in those hospitals?

Mr. DARH JAMAIL (Inter Press Service): The state of the healthcare system now as described by most of the doctors I interviewed is a total disaster.

One thing, an instance I remember very clearly to highlight how desperate the situation is in these hospitals is that I visited Shewater(ph) General Hospital, which is the largest hospital in the Sadr City area of Baghdad. This is an area of 3 million people, very, very busy hospital. And I interviewed the administrator of that hospital.

He knew full well that I was a journalist and on the record he said we have such a shortage of supplies that although we know it's strictly forbidden, we have to reuse IV needles because given the choice between risking infection or losing a patient, we have to take the risk of risking infection because we just don't have enough supplies.

So it really is an extreme crisis situation in these hospitals and it was a rare occasion that I found one that seemed to be able to operate in a normal fashion that they had enough doctors there, they had enough of the basic supplies to just do their work.

NORRIS: In Jamie's piece, we just heard about the attack on the health ministry, which is run by the political party associated with the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. How has the sectarian violence, the growing sectarian violence affected the healthcare system?

Mr. JAMAIL: It has made - on several levels, it has affected the healthcare system. First of all, Shia doctors now, since the ministry is controlled by Sadr, are given preference over Sunni doctors in many instances. And then in a very critical way, it's affected the actual healthcare provided by that hospital, where if a Sunni patient comes into a hospital, at times the situation is severe enough that even the Mahdi Army, Moqtada al-Sadr's militia, have been allowed into these hospitals to take Sunni patients literally off their beds sometimes in the middle of the day, detain them there, tortured and then later their bodies turn up on the streets of Baghdad.

NORRIS: So what happens if people do go to the hospital? Let's say that a Sunni victim of a car bombing or a shooting shows up at a hospital that's under Shiite control?

Mr. JAMAIL: It means they're taking their life into their own hands, literally, that they're going in, they don't know first of all if that hospital is even going to have the doctors there with the equipment and medicines necessary to give them the help that they might need. And then if they do go in and there is a little bit of help there they can avail themselves of, they don't know at any time if a Shia militia is going to come into that hospital and take them simply because they are Sunni.

So this is happening even in broad daylight. Nobody is safe and most people are just trying to stay away from the hospitals or go to private clinics instead to get some kind of help.

NORRIS: Why are so many doctors leaving?

Mr. JAMAIL: So many doctors are leaving Iraq as well as so many have been kidnapped or killed because of the security situation. It's not real clear who is behind this but it is clear that there have been a very deliberate and targeted assassinations of both doctors and academics alike.

NORRIS: Dahr Jamail, thanks so much for speaking to us.

Mr. JAMAIL: My pleasure. Thank you.

NORRIS: Dahr Jamail has been covering Iraq's healthcare system for the nonprofit news organization called Inter Press Service.

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