Iraq: A difficult journey of healing for war-wounded residents in Mosul

5 Jul 2017
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Ahmed gingerly moves his left foot up and down, while lying in a hospital bed in eastern Mosul, Iraq. His face is gaunt and his speech laboured as he exchanges a few words with the medical staff who watch over him. A doctor nods encouragingly at the patient's slow and steady progress.

Ahmed is receiving post-operative care at MSF’s Al Taheel hospital.

Three weeks ago, even these small movements were almost impossible. Since arriving at MSF's Al Taheel hospital, Ahmed has received a series of surgeries and post-operative care for injuries sustained over four months ago in an explosion outside his home. Four of his neighbours were killed in the blast, but survivors carried him to a nearby hospital.

There, Ahmed received emergency surgery to stabilise his condition. But shortly after, the hospital was hit in an airstrike. Despite his precarious medical condition, Ahmed was able to flee the embattled hospital to a relative’s house. But he could not make it to another medical facility for weeks due to the fighting that raged around him.

Throughout the battle, emergency responders, including MSF, have provided life-saving interventions for the freshly wounded wherever it was possible to reach them, and first-line surgery remains critical for those caught amid ongoing conflict in western parts of the city. But stories like Ahmed`s reveal another medical need unfolding far more silently, affecting many of the hundreds of thousands of people who are trying to continue their lives in safer areas of eastern Mosul and in displaced persons camps.


In these places, many men, women and children still suffer from months-old and partially healed trauma injuries. Civilians walk with shrapnel still embedded in their bodies, hampering their movements. Men, women and children suffer from old burns and gunshot wounds. Patients who received external fixtures to stabilise shattered bones now have metallic pins protruding from broken limbs, at risk of infection.

For them, the journey of healing from the incapacitation of war injuries toward anything resembling a normal life is still long and very uncertain. Most hospitals in Mosul have been damaged or destroyed, meaning patients struggle to access healthcare and the provision of post-operative and rehabilitative care is desperately lacking.

Abood was paralysed but has made a lot of progress through rehabilitative care.

MSF is operating two projects aimed at providing these vital services, but it can only help a very small proportion of those who require assistance.

Abood is a young boy receiving rehabilitative care at MSF's project in Hamdaniya, 35 kilometres outside Mosul. Having been hit in the back by a bullet while fleeing the fighting in Mosul, he understands all too well the life-changing difference that access to post-operative care can have. Initially, doctors warned that he may never walk again.

“I was completely paralysed – there was no hope left in my case,” he says.

But after being referred for rehabilitative care with MSF, Abood, like Ahmed, is now also making incremental progress, day by day.

For the countless others who cannot access the post-operative care they need, the future is less certain.

MSF is providing urgently needed medical assistance to residents of Mosul in eight project locations in and around the embattled city. This includes surgical interventions for the war-wounded, maternal care, treatment for malnutrition, and mental healthcare. In Al Hamdaniya, MSF has provided 275 patients with post-operative care, rehabilitation and psychosocial support in collaboration with Handicap International. In Al Taheel, MSF has performed more than 175 surgeries, mainly for follow-up surgical interventions and trauma-related cold cases.

MSF offers neutral and impartial medical assistance regardless of race, religion, gender or political affiliation. In order to ensure its independence, MSF does not accept funding from any government or international agency for its programmes in Iraq, relying solely on private donations from the general public around the world to carry out its work.