In Iraq, Première Urgence Internationale supports a hospital specialized in the treatment of chemical attack victims
More than 30 years after the chemical weapons attack in Halabja (Iraq), survivors continue to suffer from long-term health effects. Première Urgence Internationale supports Halabja’s specialized public hospital, the only health facility in the region that offers free services.
Members of Première Urgence Internationale visited in November Halabja Hospital for the treatment of victims of chemical weapons (credit : Première Urgence Internationale)
On March 16, 1988, during the closing days of the Iran-Iraq war, Halabja was targeted by the largest chemical weapons attack directed at civilians in history. Led by Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi state carried out what is known as the “al-Anfal Genocide” against the Kurdish people. This massacre took place 48 hours after the town was captured by the Iranian Army. For hours, Iraqi planes dropped chemical bombs on civilians in residential areas, killing over 5,000 people and injuring over 10,000.
This attack has had a long-term impact on the Halabja population. Most survivors now suffer from severe and long-lasting respiratory conditions. Many need oxygen therapy, and the negative impact on daily life is deep, as both their physical and mental health have been impacted. According to the Halabja General Director for Health, there are approximately 6,000 victims in total, with 2,000 residing in Halabja city, and the remaining in different areas of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and in Iran.
A hospital inaugurated in 2019 that treated more than 2,300 victims of the chemical attack
Halabja is one of the most underserved areas in terms of socio-economic services in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. In March 2019, Halabja’s Hospital for the Treatment of Victims of the Chemical Attack was inaugurated. Before the hospital was built, there were no health facilities dedicated to the treatment of victims in Halabja, despite the presence of severe cases. Victims of the attack were referred to other service providers and hospitals inside or outside of Iraq. As of today, out of several health facilities within Halabja area, Halabja hospital is the only facility providing free-of-charge services. Since its operationalization in 2019, the hospital has registered a total of 2,339 victims of the chemical attack (1,357 women, 678 men, 304 children) that received treatment.
Entrance of the Halabja Hospital for the treatment of victims of chemical weapons (credit: Première Urgence Internationale)
Première Urgence Internationale’s action to support the hospital
After assessing the facility between March and June 2021, Première Urgence Internationale started its support in September 2021. The main objective of the first phase of the project (which ended in August 2022), was to ensure quick impact and enable the hospital to meet immediate health needs associated with the long-term effects of the Chemical Weapons attack on survivors. It included an extensive capacity building component for the staff of the facility, complemented by donations of equipment and medication to the hospital. In order to improve pharmacy management and the supply chain, we also helped setting up a Health Information System (HIS) within the facility.
In October 2022, we officially launched the second phase of the project, which aims to continue its support to strengthen the Health System in place, while providing more depth to activities implemented in the first phase. Based on a recent needs assessment, the intervention continues to support the improvement of service delivery within the hospital, building on its technical capacity and focusing on Mental Health services, while also aiming at targeting survivors at home through outreach teams.
Batches of medications procured and donated by Première Urgence Internationale (crédit : Première Urgence Internationale)
Première Urgence Internationale’s visit in the field
In November 2022, Vincent Basquin (Première Urgence Internationale’s President), Thierry Mauricet (Co-Founder and CEO) and Christophe Duchatellier (Co-Founder and Board Member) came to visit Première Urgence Internationale Mission in Iraq. This was an excellent opportunity for PUI-Iraq field team to take them to Halabja to meet with the Director of the Hospital, the Governor, and the Mayor of Halabja, as well as several stakeholders including representatives of victims’ associations, in order to officially launch the phase 2 of the project and reflect on past achievements thanks to a great collaboration.
This was the occasion for us to thank the Hospital Management and the local authorities for their constant cooperation, and for the Hospital Manager to highlight our support, funded by the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs – Crisis and Support Center (CDCS). Following the visit of the facility and the presentation of the project activities, Dr. Nour Raheem (Première Urgence Internationale’s Program Manager) handed over the keys of the minivan donated to the hospital, which will be used by outreach teams to deploy health staff and provide home-based care to survivors in the area.