Special Report The Lancet Focuses on Maternal and Child Health in Iraq

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By: Sarah Blake, MHTF consultant

In “Roots of Iraq’s maternal and child health crisis run deep” published today in The Lancet as part of a special edition on health in Iraq ten years after the U.S. invasion, Paul C. Webster synthesizes evidence on the lasting impact of the conflict on maternal and child health. In particular, the article focuses on the persistent shortage of skilled health providers that arose after the conflict, as many fled the country, and has persisted since.

The article cites Yaseen Abbas, president of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society:

 The overarching impediment blocking progress on maternal and child mortality, he argues, is no longer violence and insecurity, which for much of the past decade prevented patients from reaching health professionals. “The medical teams are now reaching all parts of Iraq”, he reports. “But the problems now are structural. The number of primary care facilities is inadequate. The years of embargoes and the former regime’s strategies held Iraq back in medical science. This, and the brain drain, remain the main things retarding health care here.”

Further, the article points out that even as the health sector budget for the country has increased in recent years, challenges persist for ensuring that funds are used appropriately,  and per capita health spending remains below that of neighboring countries. Further, as another article in the issue points out, these investments have tended to focus on large hospitals, rather than the system as a whole.  Finally, it highlights the fact that the population of Iraq is both young and growing far more rapidly than neighboring countries, as family planning access and knowledge remain low. Indeed, an analysis of global data on family planning, also published recently in Lancet shows that though there has been some increases in contraceptive prevalence in the past decade, around 20 percent of women have an unmet need for family planning: far higher than the global figure of 12 percent.