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Al-Qurnah Hospital stripped bare

[Iraq] Al-Qurna Hospital Stripped Bare.
The mental hospital has been stripped bare and many patients are unaccounted for (Mike White)

People celebrated in Iraq's southeastern city of Al-Qurnah on Sunday when electricity was finally restored. Men took to the streets and rooftops, firing rifles into the air to express their joy. But for one family there was no celebrating: one of its members, a woman, was accidentally shot in the head. They rushed her to the hospital, but the doctors could do nothing more than watch her die, because their wards and theatres had been stripped bare by looters a week earlier.

Armed mobs had entered the hospital, pushed their way past guards and doctors, and ransacked the 130-bed facility serving a population of 300,000. Dr Salma Qadi Makki, a gynaecologist, said the gangs had even taken beds from underneath war-wounded patients. Over two days, virtually everything went - all lights, switches, wiring, air conditioning, furniture, drugs, surgical instruments and even basins.

They even used a gun to shoot open the door leading to the operating theatre. What the looters could not carry away they smashed, including the main switchboard, an act which deprived the hospital of the use of its two generators. It now has no water, its toilets blocked and overflowing.

After the incident, British troops set up a base at the hospital's entrance to provide staff with security while they are at work. Now, in the hospital's main corridor, several doctors have gathered, still shocked by what happened, wondering how they will perform their functions and pick up the pieces.

Dr Muhammad Nawruz, a specialist in internal medicine, said they could do little more than look at the patients continuing to reach the hospital. "It's just show business. We put fluid on and wait for death."

The nearest other hospital is in Iraq's main southern city Basra, 75 km to the south. But there is only one ambulance and it is still too unsafe to drive at night. "The truth is that people are dying unnecessarily because we cannot provide them with any services," Nawruz said. There were no clean sheets for the beds salvaged from the wreckage - the laundry was smashed. And there was no way to provide meals - everything had been taken from the kitchen. "Just the walls are left. And even the windows are broken," he said.

Although most of the hospital's 18 doctors and specialists were still coming to work, they were depressed, angry at the destruction and frustrated by being unable to help patients, Nawruz observed.

He predicted that it might be as long as three weeks before the hospital would be able to resume operations, perhaps even longer. "Please help us, medically, financially and even ourselves - we are broken. We need real help," Nawruz pleaded.

Meanwhile, as news of the disaster spread, help began arriving. On Monday, two vehicles full of United Nations medical supplies reached the hospital, transported by the US-based aid organisation International Medical Corps (IMC). Later the same day, a potable water storage tank from the Kuwaiti Red Crescent Society was delivered. Nawruz said hospital staff had given IMC officials a list of other items still needed and which they were told to expect within a week.

IMC's vice-president for international relief and development, Rabih Torbay, told IRIN from Kuwait City that his staff had come upon the dire state of affairs at the hospital in Al-Qurnah during an assessment trip into the area north of Basra last week. While other hospitals had largely survived the war, that of Al-Qurnah had been virtually gutted, although staff had managed to save some drugs and store them in their homes for safety during the pillage. IMC, which was the first aid organisation to enter Iraq from Kuwait, has 12 staff in the country now.

Back at the hospital, Makki said women had started coming to her home, seeking help. But without equipment or facilities, there was nothing she could do for women needing caesareans or other obstetric assistance. All that remained for such women was relying on home deliveries by midwives.

On Monday there were only five patients at the hospital. One, 75-year-old Muqbil Tawmah, lay listless on a basic bed, his son, Hanwan, constantly fanning him. Suffering from a major infection, there is no air conditioning to keep him cool and precious little doctors can do. Hanwan said he was furious about what had happened. "Crazy people, angry people, took everything, all the furniture, and sold it," he shouted.

Extremely worried that his father might die from lack of care, he conceded there were no real options. "There is only this hospital - there is nothing else. Where can we go? Only outside Iraq," he said resignedly.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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