Iraqi people take water from a humanitarian aid convoy in Amerli on September 1, 2014
Iraqi people take water from a humanitarian aid convoy in Amerli on September 1, 2014 © JM Lopez - AFP/File
Iraqi people take water from a humanitarian aid convoy in Amerli on September 1, 2014
Last updated: September 25, 2014

Medical "wasteland" in Iraqi warzones

Medical services in Iraq's conflict zones have collapsed, leaving millions of people in a health "wasteland", as the spectre of epidemics stalks the country, aid charity MSF warned on Wednesday.

"What you have is an area where there's almost a complete wasteland in terms of access to medical care," said Bruno Jochum, general director at MSF, which is also know as Doctors Without Borders.

"There are whole regions deprived of medical services," he told reporters in Geneva after returning from a mission to Iraq.

Hospitals and clinics have been put out of action in swathes of Iraq, he said, adding that it was a matter of both collateral damage from fighting as well as deliberate targeting.

He did not pin the blame directly on the Islamic State group, whose jihadist fighters have seized territory across the country over recent months and also control parts of Syria.

But he noted that security concerns made it impossible for aid organisations to operate there.

MSF programme manager Gustavo Fernandez said fears were rising about the situation.

"Our main concern is the millions that are still trapped in conflict areas," Fernandez told reporters, going on to estimate that at least 2.5 million may be affected.

"Almost no meaningful medical assistance, or humanitarian assistance at large, is reaching them," he added.

Fernandez said that medical staff have fled in the face of the jihadists' advance, and their testimony has been chilling.

"Medical facilities are not being supplied and therefore the populations trapped in those areas will eventually face a hospital that stands only with its walls, lacking necessary drugs and most of the essential items to conduct medical practice," he said.

With winter looming, MSF is also seriously concerned about the situation facing some 1.7 million Iraqis who have fled in desperation to safer regions of the country and remain homeless.

"If living conditions are not improved, if water is not available, if basically latrines are not built and sanitation is not maintained, the risk of epidemics elevates and increases anywhere," said Fernandez.

MSF has 400 staff in Iraq -- the vast majority locals -- who are working round the clock to help those who have fled.

"There has not been an epidemic yet, but the risk is on the rise. What we see through our medical data is that the incidence of diarrhoea, of skin diseases and gastro-intestinal related diseases has increased over the period of the past two or three weeks," said Fernandez.

In the conflict zones and behind IS lines, the picture is unclear -- and that haziness raises the risk that outbreaks would be left to spread.

"We probably wouldn't know if there was an epidemic in these areas. Today, it probably wouldn't be reported and no response would happen," said Jochum.

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