Healthcare in Iraq was once among the most developed systems in the region with several respected medical schools, a variety of advanced resources and largely accessible care. That said, the impact of the war and ongoing conflict in Iraq has had devastating effects on the country’s healthcare system. Iraq’s primary healthcare delivery, disease control system, and health research infrastructure have been shattered by the conflict.
Attempts to resurrect Iraq’s healthcare system remain hindered by the fragile national security and lack of basic utilities such as water and electricity. We therefore recommend that all expats in Iraq invest in a comprehensive international health insurance scheme that includes medical evacuation.
Public healthcare in Iraq
The public healthcare system in Iraq struggles to meet the needs of its citizens. In most urban centres, medical facilities have been rebuilt, and these are much more likely to be adequately staffed with doctors and nurses than those in rural areas.
The system faces a host of challenges including medication shortages, unreliable electricity, outdated equipment and lack of qualified staff. Hospitals are also often the target of insurgent attacks.
Other governments and international-aid organisations are working closely with the Iraqi government to restore basic services. Depending on where patients live and the severity of their condition, those requiring complex procedures might be taken to facilities managed by international organisations.
Private healthcare in Iraq
There is no formal private healthcare insurance system in Iraq. In some instances, wealthier Iraqis may pay out of pocket to receive speedier treatment at a public facility, or opt to go to a neighbouring country for treatment. Private clinics do exist, but they tend to be small and primarily provide services for childbirths or surgeries and not general care.
Health insurance for expats in Iraq
Most expats moving to Iraq tend to do so on short-term contracts. They therefore rarely need to concern themselves with long-term medical care. In serious circumstances, expats may be able to get treatment at a facility managed by an international organisation or a local hospital. That said, in most cases, they will be evacuated by air ambulance to a nearby country where they can receive better care.
It is vital that expats moving to Iraq have a fully comprehensive health insurance plan that covers them for treatment overseas and repatriation. This is generally provided by employers as part of an expat’s employment contract. Expats should be sure to check the extent of coverage and purchase additional top-up insurance if necessary.
There are several international health insurance companies tailored specifically towards cover for expats that can be found online.
Pharmacies in Iraq
Expats on chronic medication should ensure they visit their doctor prior to relocating to Ira to get an advance prescription for the duration of their assignment in Iraq.
If travelling with prescription medicine, expats must ensure that all medicine is in its original container. They must also carry a signed and dated letter from their doctor detailing the medicine's brand and chemical names, its purpose, as well as confirmation that the medicine is for personal use.
As the Iraqi health system is developing, many drugs are in short supply. This means expats may only have access to the most basic medicines in Iraq.
Health hazards in Iraq
There are significant health hazards in Iraq, and expats should take adequate precautions to protect themselves. The sanitation systems are not well developed and there is a high risk of contaminated water and food sources.
Pre-travel vaccinations for Iraq
Routine vaccinations, including those for chickenpox, polio and measles-mumps-rubella, should be kept up to date. Additional vaccinations for typhoid and hepatitis A and B are recommended.
Emergency services in Iraq
Ambulances are few and far between in Iraq. Historically, it has been alleged that ambulances have been overtaken by fighters and used as weapons during the war (despite this being regarded as a war crime). Most people needing to get to the hospital rather take taxis. Nevertheless, emergency services can be contacted on the following lines:
- General emergency line: 112
- Ambulance: 122
- Police: 104
- Fire: 115
Expats with good health insurance should receive instructions from their insurer about what to do, where to go and who to contact in a medical emergency. In serious cases, medical evacuation by helicopter to a nearby country may be necessary, and it's vital to subscribe to a health insurance plan that covers this.
►See Transport and Driving in Iraq for information about getting around
Are you an expat living in Iraq?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Iraq. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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