In the 1980s, almost all medical facilities continued to be controlled
by the government, and most physicians were Ministry of Health
officials. Curative and preventive services in the government-controlled
hospitals and dispensaries and the services of government physicians
were free of charge. The ministry included the directorates of
health, preventive medicine, medical supplies, rural health services,
and medical services. The inspector general of health, under the
ministry, was charged with the enforcement of health laws and
regulations. Private medical practice and private hospitals and
clinics were subject to government supervision. In each province
Ministry of Health functions were carried out by a chief medical
officer who, before the war, frequently had a private practice
to supplement his government salary. Provincial medical officers
were occupied mainly with administrative duties in hospitals,
clinics, and dispensaries. The work of medical officers in the
rural areas before the war was seriously curtailed by lack of
One of the most serious problems facing the Ministry of Health
in the prewar period was its shortage of trained personnel. The
shortage was accentuated by the fact that most medical personnel
tended to be concentrated in the major cities, such as Baghdad
and Basra. Physicians trained at government expense were required
to spend four years in the public health service, but they strongly
resisted appointments to posts outside the cities and made every
effort to return to Baghdad.
In 1983, the latest year for which statistics were available
in early 1988, Baghdad Governorate, which had about 29 percent
of the population, had nearly 37 percent of the country's hospital
beds, 42 percent of the government clinics, and 38 percent of
the paramedical personnel. The increasing number of clinics in
the provinces, however, brought some rudimentary health care within
reach of the rural population. At the same time, given the unsettled
conditions in the Kurdish areas, it was likely that health care
in the northern provinces had deteriorated since the start of
Published information concerning sanitation and endemic diseases
was scanty. Reportedly in the mid-1980s Iraq had a high incidence
of trachoma, influenza, measles, whooping cough, and tuberculosis.
Prior to the war, poor sanitation and polluted water sources were
principal factors in the spread of disease. A large percentage
of the population lived in villages and towns that have been along
irrigation canals and rivers polluted with human and animal wastes.
These waterways, along with the stagnant pools of water that sometimes
constitute the village reservoir, were the major sources of drinking
water and of water for bathing, laundering, and washing food.
The periodic flooding of rivers contaminated water supplies and
spread waterborne diseases.
The Tigris and Euphrates rivers and their tributaries serve as
water sources for Baghdad and some of the major provincial towns.
Irbil and As Sulaymaniyah, located in the northern mountains,
have adequate supplies of spring water. In Basra, Mosul, and Kirkuk
the water is stored in elevated tanks and chemically treated before
distribution. In Baghdad the water is filtered, chlorinated, and
piped into homes or to communal fountains located throughout the
city. In the smaller towns, however, the water supply is unprotected
and is only rarely tested for potability.
Data as of May 1988