12 Apr 2024
Related Countries

Located at the western end of Kirkuk Governorate, the Hawija district was part of Iraq’s one-third of territory that fell under the control of the Islamic State (IS) group in 2014. For the next three years, thousands of people fled their homes, leaving everything behind. Hundreds of thousands were displaced from Hawija into camps in Kirkuk and other governorates. The district’s health infrastructure sustained significant damages; not only from the armed battles but also due to the depletion of resources and services during the area's isolation from the rest of the country for three years.


As people fled their homes, MSF set up two mobile clinics in Debes and Maktab Khalid where Internally Displaced People (IDPs) arrived after their long journey to escape Hawija. MSF also established a primary healthcare facility at the Daquq camp where most of the displaced population eventually settled.


Omar Ali, an MSF health promoter, was living in Hawija before fleeing his beloved home, seeking safety. Throughout his escape, he had many encounters with MSF as an IDP. “MSF was there and witnessed everything we went through. We found MSF at the reception sites when we just managed to cross to safety. Then in the camps, where we went to live. When we started to return home after the battles, MSF was there before us to cover the needs of the returnees”.


When the fighting ended, almost all basic services were non-existent across Hawija. To assist those who stayed home, and anticipating a large wave of returnees, MSF arrived at Al-Abasi subdistrict. “Our teams arrived first at Al-Abbasi town and established a temporary primary healthcare centre as the public one was damaged in the fighting,” says Sellah Moraa, MSF Deputy Head of Mission in Kirkuk. “Shortly after, we extended our activities and started working at the primary healthcare centre of Hawija main town,” Sellah adds. Through both facilities, MSF provided medical care for people affected by non-communicable diseases and provided sexual and reproductive health care, mental health care and health promotion services.



Over the past eight years, the Hawija district saw a remarkable recovery that is visible in all aspects of life. During that time, MSF worked closely with healthcare authorities to help restore access to basic health services. In addition to medical care, MSF supported the Directorate of Health with infrastructure rehabilitation at Hawija General Hospital and provided essential training and coaching to healthcare providers.


Sellah Moraa, Deputy Head of Mission, MSF

I arrived at this project seven months ago, and we are currently in challenging times as we prepare to hand over the Al-Abbasi and Hawija projects to the Iraqi Ministry of Health. This was my first time visiting the Middle East, and I was amazed by the respect, cooperation, and warm reception from the people here.

We have been working here in Hawija and Al-Abbasi to provide the returnees from displacement decent primary healthcare services for their chronic conditions, reproductive and maternity care, mental healthcare and health promotion. We received only positive feedback about our presence in this project. Everyone has expressed gratitude for the time MSF spent in the area.

I understand that changing jobs can be a difficult challenge for our team members who have worked here for years, but the experiences they have gained can be extremely valuable for their future professional paths. We are confident that they can stay in their communities as ambassadors of MSF and continue sharing their experiences with the community and individuals in Hawija and Al-Abbasi. Our role in the emergency phase when the needs were critical has ended, and now we see that the Directorate of Health (DoH) of Kirkuk is in a better position to provide more sustainable long-term access to healthcare for the population here.

 I am optimistic about the work of the Iraqi Ministry of Health and the Kirkuk DoH and believe they can take on the responsibility and deliver the best for the community.


Huda Hussain, Mental Health Counsellor, MSF

I have been working with MSF since 2021. During my work in the mental health department, I have met people who had a good understanding and acceptance of mental healthcare and some others who felt different levels of stigma around seeking this type of care. Once people start visiting us, they realise that mental health is a type of care that anyone would need, just like medical care, and there is no need to be ashamed of it.

Most of the patients quickly develop positive feelings around these services and they become enthusiastic for their next session. During my work here I have come across patients who were very exhausted psychologically and their stories were very touching. We worked with them to hold their hands to a better feeling, and I am glad that I was able to support my patients to feel better. Our work is sometimes challenging because of the stories we come across, but we are also supported and provided with the care we need to stay happy and healthy while helping others.