For the last five years Nateq Murad ran a simple but popular medical clinic in Wasiti neighbourhood in Kirkuk city. Performing the role of doctor, nurse and pharmacist the 36 year old provided basic medical
Despite Murad being a certified medical assistant however, his clinic was illegal and the government has now closed it as part of a new campaign cracking down on unofficial medical centres. In so doing a vital source of cheap and readily available medical services is being threatened say critics.
Murad acknowledged that his work was illegal but said that “these clinics provided many services during the sectarian war in 2006 when many neighbourhoods became closed areas. In every neighbourhood there was one or two clinics treating patients at low prices and sometimes free of charge.”
The mass emigration of Iraqi doctors during the years of sectarian violence created a medical vacuum that was filled through the creation of impromptu and unofficial clinics. Many of the new medical practitioners lived in the same neighbourhoods as their patients and build their practices upon their pre-existent social relations.
Those who used Murad’s clinic warmly praised his services.
According to 56 year old Haj Nuri al-Jibouri the clinic were invaluable in providing low cost medical services. “A medical assistant does not charge people the minimum amount of 10,000 Iraqi dinars [US $8.70] for health examinations… he only charges people the price of medicine," he said.
Under Saddam medical supplies were extremely limited and only available in hospitals. However, in the chaos that followed the fall of the regime, Murad’s job at the Department of Health allowed him to get hold of medical resources and establish his clinic. “Most of the owners of popular clinics are either ex-ministry of health employees, workers from government hospitals or retired health sector employees," Murad told Niqash.
Murad used these resources to provide basic medical services from stitches to injections.Now, however, with the improvement in the security situation and increasing government incentives encouraging doctors to return to Iraq, these clinics are facing the wrath of the law.
The government has begun a nationwide campaign targeting illegal medical clinics and in the middle of March Murad was forced to close his clinic.
Murad called the government’s decision to close his clinic an act of “ingratitude” for all the good work he did and complained that clinics in Kirkuk have been targeted more than those in other Iraqi provinces.
Yet government officials say these illegal clinics are dangerous and must be closed. "These clinics are illegal and those who operate them have committed fatal medical mistakes,” said Huda Yahya from the Kirkuk health department.
According to Yahya, the campaign, which started in Kirkuk in the beginning of March, is one step of a broader ‘National Program to Control Drugs’ campaign launched by the Ministry of Health across the country.
Yahya said that the campaign has already achieved success especially in the northern parts of the city. But he admitted that progress is slow, saying that officials face huge challenges closing all of the illegal clinics in the southern districts, as well as the densely populated area of Huwayja where many of these clinics abound.
“Along Doctors Road alone there were eleven unlicensed pharmacies and clinics are wide-spread in small alleys," he explained.
A source at the Ministry of Health in Baghdad reiterated the seriousness of the new campaign to Niqash. "Inspection teams will not only raid clinics but will also pursue those who violate the laws everywhere; they will issue judicial warrants and raid suspected houses if necessary. There are media awareness campaigns underway to convince people to go to competent doctors and purchase medicine from licensed pharmacies," he said.
Despite these threats Murad said that he will continue to treat people who come knocking at his home seeking medical assistance. “I cannot stop myself from providing assistance to people of my city who suffer critical conditions," he said.