When the air strikes on Baghdad began on 21 March, the staff of the Ibn Bitar cardiac hospital in the centre of the city feared the worst.
During the Gulf War in 1991, the hospital was badly damaged by bombing – not because it was a target itself, but due to its location between an important broadcasting facility and the city’s main telecommunications centre.
Twelve years later, history repeated itself. As Dr Sami Wasfy, a cardiac surgeon at the hospital explained: “We were caught in the middle again this year when the war broke out.” The neighbouring buildings were both destroyed by so-called smart missiles. One side of the hospital suffered blast damage but much more seriously, the wing closest to the broadcasting station suffered a direct hit and was gutted in the resulting fire. The hospital was also looted shortly after the city fell to American forces. Almost everything moveable was stolen including vital medical equipment, mattresses, furniture and drugs. Following a direct appeal in the mosques, some of the equipment has been brought back to the compound of a neighbouring hospital.
Before the war, Ibn Bitar was Iraq’s main cardiac facility, performing up to 40 operations every day. When we visited, it was still not able to receive patients. Dr Wasfy was clearly emotional when he told us that they were having to turn away people who were seriously ill.
Although it will be some time before this important medical facility is fully restored, the staff were hoping to resume outpatients services in just a few days. Priority had been given to cleaning up the outpatients department and work on clearing the rubble and establishing a hygienic environment was well under way.
The Ibn Bitar hospital has received ECHO-funded support in the form of dried and fresh food, and cleaning materials from the French NGO, Première Urgence. This NGO, which has long experience of working in Iraq, continued to offer vital assistance to medical facilities in Baghdad during the war. In the coming days, Première Urgence plans to undertake major work at the hospital which will involve the demolition of the wing that was destroyed in the bombing and the rehabilitation of less damaged structures.
During ECHO’s visit, we met a surgeon in a boiler suit clearing up the mess in the stock rooms. Hopefully, it will not be long before he can put on his surgical gown again and get back to the highly skilled work for which he has been trained.
ECHO Information Officer - Brussels