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Iraq: Health
Country Study > Chapter 2 > The Society and Its Environment > Education and Welfare > Health


In the 1980s, almost all medical facilities continued to be controlled by the government, and most physicians were Ministry of Health officials. Curative and preventive services in the government-controlled hospitals and dispensaries and the services of government physicians were free of charge. The ministry included the directorates of health, preventive medicine, medical supplies, rural health services, and medical services. The inspector general of health, under the ministry, was charged with the enforcement of health laws and regulations. Private medical practice and private hospitals and clinics were subject to government supervision. In each province Ministry of Health functions were carried out by a chief medical officer who, before the war, frequently had a private practice to supplement his government salary. Provincial medical officers were occupied mainly with administrative duties in hospitals, clinics, and dispensaries. The work of medical officers in the rural areas before the war was seriously curtailed by lack of transportation.

One of the most serious problems facing the Ministry of Health in the prewar period was its shortage of trained personnel. The shortage was accentuated by the fact that most medical personnel tended to be concentrated in the major cities, such as Baghdad and Basra. Physicians trained at government expense were required to spend four years in the public health service, but they strongly resisted appointments to posts outside the cities and made every effort to return to Baghdad.

In 1983, the latest year for which statistics were available in early 1988, Baghdad Governorate, which had about 29 percent of the population, had nearly 37 percent of the country's hospital beds, 42 percent of the government clinics, and 38 percent of the paramedical personnel. The increasing number of clinics in the provinces, however, brought some rudimentary health care within reach of the rural population. At the same time, given the unsettled conditions in the Kurdish areas, it was likely that health care in the northern provinces had deteriorated since the start of the war.

Published information concerning sanitation and endemic diseases was scanty. Reportedly in the mid-1980s Iraq had a high incidence of trachoma, influenza, measles, whooping cough, and tuberculosis. Prior to the war, poor sanitation and polluted water sources were principal factors in the spread of disease. A large percentage of the population lived in villages and towns that have been along irrigation canals and rivers polluted with human and animal wastes. These waterways, along with the stagnant pools of water that sometimes constitute the village reservoir, were the major sources of drinking water and of water for bathing, laundering, and washing food. The periodic flooding of rivers contaminated water supplies and spread waterborne diseases.

The Tigris and Euphrates rivers and their tributaries serve as water sources for Baghdad and some of the major provincial towns. Irbil and As Sulaymaniyah, located in the northern mountains, have adequate supplies of spring water. In Basra, Mosul, and Kirkuk the water is stored in elevated tanks and chemically treated before distribution. In Baghdad the water is filtered, chlorinated, and piped into homes or to communal fountains located throughout the city. In the smaller towns, however, the water supply is unprotected and is only rarely tested for potability.

Health: During its last decade, the regime of Saddam Hussein cut public health funding by 90 percent, contributing to a substantial deterioration in health care. During that period, maternal mortality increased nearly threefold, and the salaries of medical personnel decreased drastically. Medical facilities, which in 1980 were among the best in the Middle East, deteriorated. Conditions were especially serious in the south, where malnutrition and water-borne diseases became common in the 1990s. In 2005 the incidence of typhoid, cholera, malaria, and tuberculosis was higher in Iraq than in comparable countries. The conflict of 2003 destroyed an estimated 12 percent of hospitals and Iraq’s two main public health laboratories. In 2004 some improvements occurred. Using substantial international funds, some 240 hospitals and 1,200 primary health centers were operating, shortages of some medical materials had been alleviated, the training of medical personnel had begun, and the inoculation of children was widespread. However, sanitary conditions in hospitals remained unsatisfactory, trained personnel and medications were in short supply, and health care remained largely unavailable in regions where violent insurgency continued. In 2005 there were 15 hospital beds, 6.3 doctors, and 11 nurses per 10,000 population. Plans called for US$1.5 billion of the national budget to be spent on health care in 2006.

In the late 1990s, Iraq’s infant mortality rates more than doubled. Because treatment and diagnosis of cancer and diabetes decreased in the 1990s, complications and deaths resulting from those diseases increased drastically in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The collapse of sanitation infrastructure in 2003 led to an increased incidence of cholera, dysentery, and typhoid fever. Malnutrition and childhood diseases, which had increased significantly in the late 1990s, continued to spread. In 2006 some 73 percent of cases of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) in Iraq originated with blood transfusions and 16 percent from sexual transmission. The AIDS Research Centre in Baghdad, where most cases have been diagnosed, provides free treatment, and testing is mandatory for foreigners entering Iraq. Between October 2005 and January 2006, some 26 new cases were identified, bringing the official total to 261 since 1986.

Data as of August 2006

Last Updated: August 2006

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Iraq was first published in 1988. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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