BAGHDAD (WFO) — The COVID-19 pandemic in Iraq has challenged the fragile health infrastructure weakened by decades of unrest and internal conflict. It most impacted the vulnerable population of over 1.3 million Internally Displaced Populations (IDPs) and over 4.7 million returnees sheltered in poor living settings in many parts of the country.
Ninawa Governorate, northwest Iraq, hosts the highest number of returnees living in severe conditions. These conditions were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent containment measure of the lockdown which impacted the living of over 270,000 returnees and increased their struggle for accessible health services including COVID-19 infection prevention and control.
During the Mosul crisis in 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) deployed a network of Mobile Medical Clinics (MMC) to deliver a wide range of first-line health care services to the most remote areas and battle frontlines in Ninawa and several other conflict-affected governorates. These MMCs never stopped their devotion to health care service delivery after Mosul liberation and have, again, proved value amid the strive of health actors to contain the fast spread of the new coronavirus infection in the country.
“WHO was concerned about the health of the vulnerable population in Ninawa and other conflict-affected areas which are still suffering from severe living conditions,” said Dr. Adham Ismail, WHO Representative in Iraq.
“We have been in close cooperation with the local health authorities and health cluster partners to coordinate sustainable access to essential health care services in these locations, in addition to spreading COVID-19 prevention messages and awareness material as possible. We believe that the spread of the pandemic in delicate settings like displacement and refugee camps or returnee shelters could lead to dramatic and uncontainable infection consequences,” Dr. Ismail added.
The WHO supported network of MMCs has been managed by implementing partners in north, west, and northwest Iraq. DARY NGO is one of the health partners running 18 WHO-supported mobile clinics in the governorates of Anbar and Ninawa, where the highest vulnerable and in-need for health care service population is located.
“During the current COVID-19 pandemic, the mobile clinics became significantly important in providing primary health care services in under-recovery areas,” said Dr. Ahmed Riyadh, a Medical Officer working in one of the MMCs operating in Mosul. “The restriction of movement imposed by the local authorities in Ninawa limited the beneficiaries’ access to health services in fixed primary health care centers. But with mobile clinics, we were able to reach different remote areas to deliver primary health care services and support COVID-19 response efforts by distributing health promotion and awareness messages on COVID-19 prevention.”
(Photo 1: While in lockdown, patients are benefiting from mobile health services reaching them through one WHO supported mobile clinic run by partner Dary NGO in Mosul. May 2020. WHO Iraq)
Streets of Yarmouk area in west Mosul looked almost empty apart from the few individuals gathered in a line minding social distancing as possible. “Maha couldn’t sleep all night yesterday. She had a fever and severe pain in the abdomen with frequent vomiting,” said Ali Yasir father of the 9-year old Maha. “The mobile clinic saved my daughter. I couldn’t take her to the city hospital with the lockdown in place. The checkpoints wouldn’t allow me; the nearest health facility to my place is over 20 kms away,” he explained.
(Photo 2: A 9-year old girl from Mosul under treatment by the medical team of a WHO supported MMC run by partner Dary NGO. May 2020. WHO Iraq)
The health services delivered by the mobile clinics during COVID-19 response operation have been re-scheduled to cover outreach locations and neighborhoods where the in-need population is unable to access primary health care facilities due to the country-wide imposed lockdown. The health teams working in these clinics have succeeded in delivering COVID-19 awareness and prevention messages to thousands of beneficiaries in Ninawa since the eruption of pandemic in Iraq. They have also provided 48,611 consultations covering 293 areas as of June 2020.
(Photo 3: The medical team of one WHO supported MMC in Mosul orients beneficiaries on COVID 19 prevention and protection measures.)
Iraq confirmed the first case of COVID-19 within its borders on 24 February this year. The virus transmitted slowly then, allowing Iraq’s health authorities to mobilize available resources for preparing special coronavirus response and rapidly expanding its testing capabilities with the help of WHO in Iraq. The response was planned to cover all Iraq with a focus on high-risk locations and areas including the governorates under the recovery and resilience program.
WHO support to health services – including, but not limited to, the mobile medical clinics run by health partners in many underserved areas in Ninawa governorate- was made possible by the generous contribution of The Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) and The European Commission Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO).