Doctors in the spotlight: Saving lives and reviving Iraq’s health system

Iraqi doctors share their experiences in rebuilding a devastated health sector and their vision for their country.

October 19, 2023

After witnessing the destruction and transformation of Ramadi Teaching Hospital, Dr. Muhannad Shaker Al Fahdawi is motivated to serve his people more than ever.

Photo: UNDP Iraq

In the aftermath of the ISIL conflict, Iraq’s health sector continues to face immense challenges, but doctors, nurses, and health workers are the beacons of hope, a group of unsung heroes who work tirelessly, providing essential medical services to the people of Iraq.  

We spoke to some of the doctors working to rebuild Iraq’s healthcare system. These vignettes will give you a deeper understanding as they share their stories during the siege and after the liberation from ISIL.  

Dr. Muhannad’s story  

Dr. Muhannad Shaker Al Fahdawi started as a young resident doctor at Ramadi Teaching Hospital for Women and Children. In 2005, he joined the hospital, eager to make a difference in the lives of Anbar’s children. After more than three years in the hospital, he relocated to Baghdad to pursue further studies in pediatric surgery at the Medical City. 

Focus amidst the distress  

During the tumultuous period of ISIL occupation, Dr. Muhannad, kept his head down and studied diligently, with the end goal of preparing himself to better serve his community. In 2016, he returned to Ramadi as a full-fledged pediatric surgeon, but the hospital he served was not spared by ISIL.    

“The hospital halls and doctors' houses were severely damaged and burnt. The walls were peppered with bullets. Medical equipment, tools, and supplies were stolen. The hospital was in dire need of rehabilitation, staff, and equipment,” Dr. Muhannad shares.   

The state of the buildings and infrastructure were a daily reminder of the danger and trauma these medical professionals had gone through. Despite the massive damage and lack of resources, Ramadi Hospital staff, including Dr. Muhannad, reopened the facility in 2016 to provide vital services to families returning to Anbar. Still, the hospital required extensive rehabilitation.   

Pediatric surgeon Dr. Muhannad Shaker Al Fahdawi performs 25 to 30 operations at Ramadi Teaching Hospital for Women and Children every month. Photo: UNDP Iraq

Photo: UNDP Iraq

“It was not easy to resume work after Iraq’s liberation. At that time, hospitals provided very limited services, but we did everything we could to treat and serve our people.”  

A new hope emerges.  

Today, Ramadi Teaching Hospital for Women and Children has upgraded operating theatres, labor wards, 260-bed patient wards, laboratories, teaching halls, and staff accommodation. It also has modern medical equipment for maternal and natal care, testing, complex surgeries, and screening.  

“The hospital had a big transformation, thanks to UNDP’s support. With operating rooms and equipment for maternal and pediatric surgeries, we are able to perform life-saving surgeries and provide a wide range of services for women and children,” Dr. Muhannad says.  

A surgeon and an educator, Dr. Omar Abdelkader has been an invaluable asset to Ramadi Hospital.

Photo: UNDP Iraq

Dr. Omar’s story  

Like Dr. Muhannad, Dr. Omar Abdelkader has been a part of the medical community in Ramadi for over a decade. Dr. Omar began his career at Ramadi Teaching Hospital for Women and Children in 2010, shortly after earning his medical degree from its Faculty of Medicine.  

During ISIL, Dr. Omar fled to Baghdad. Seeing the overwhelming need for healthcare services, he returned to Ramadi Hospital right after liberation. “The hospital was out of operation for a long time. When we came back, 80 to 90 percent of the hospital was destroyed.”  

Despite the setbacks, Dr. Omar and his colleagues pressed on, determined to slowly bring the hospital back to serve those who need treatment most. Now a pediatric surgeon with a focus on treating congenital deformities and an assistant professor at the UNDP-rehabilitated Ramadi Teaching Hospital, Dr. Omar plays a crucial role in bringing quality healthcare services to Anbari children.    

As one of the few hospitals specializing in maternal and natal care in Iraq, Ramadi Hospital treats hundreds of patients every month, with the Department of Pediatric Surgery alone receiving 10-15 consultations daily.  

“Pediatric surgery is relatively new in Iraq. Because of its complexity, pediatric surgery requires a lot of precision, innovation, and collaboration. Some operations require multiple surgeons and last for up to seven hours,” Dr. Omar says.  

Need for more Iraqi pediatric surgeons.  

Ramadi Hospital has seen an incredible improvement. But, Dr. Muhannad and Dr. Omar say that the hospital and the entire country are in need of more specialists who possess skills to handle children and have the proper training to care for young patients.  

“With more doctors trained in pediatric surgery, our department can provide holistic care and reduce our reliance on other specialities. Specialized care for children is crucial for their successful treatment and recovery,” Dr. Omar adds.  

Determined to make a difference at Fallujah Teaching Hospital, Dr. Mustafa AbdulKareem Hussain nurtures a culture of learning and growth among his students.

Photo: UNDP Iraq

Dr. Mustafa’s story  

A specialist in ear, nose, throat, head, and neck surgery, Dr. Mustafa AbdulKareem Hussain embodies a relentless passion for his profession. Working at Fallujah Teaching Hospital for over three years, he has been contributing his expertise to transforming the hospital into a center of excellence for health and medical education.    

Heavily bombed and damaged during the ISIL conflict, Fallujah Teaching Hospital stands today as one of the district’s largest and most well-equipped hospitals after being rehabilitated by UNDP. At least 20 major surgeries are performed at this hospital every month.  

“My goal is to help transform Fallujah Hospital into a renowned teaching centre that attracts top-tier talent and pioneers innovative research and advancements in medical care. By doing this, we will elevate the standard of care and ensure better health services for the people of Fallujah,” Dr. Mustafa says.

Ammar Abdel Salam Hamed’s steadfast commitment to healing hearts has not only saved lives but also inspired hope in his community.

Photo: UNDP Iraq

Dr. Ammar’s story  

With 25 years of experience in the field of cardiac surgery, Dr. Ammar Abdel Salam Hamed has witnessed the triumphs and trials of Iraq’s healthcare system. A man with a mission, Dr. Ammar remains committed to providing the best medical care possible to the people of Mosul.  

Dr. Ammar has been overseeing Al Salam Hospital’s Department of Cardiac Surgery since its establishment in 2020. Although relatively new, the facility has become a vital hub for cardiac care in the region.    

“The cardiac centre provides much-needed care to those with heart conditions in a city where such facilities are scarce. There is no other hospital in the health directorate that is equipped to handle the complex procedures we do. This centre fills that void and gives hope to those in need,” Dr. Ammar says.  

Dr. Ammar and his team perform an average of 20-22 surgeries per month. With more families returning home and the prevalence of heart disease increasing, there is a growing demand for these cardiac services. To meet this growing need, Dr. Ammar envisions the establishment of more cardiac centres like Al Salam’s, ensuring that every Iraqi has access to this specialized service.  

With two inpatient wards with eight beds each, two fully equipped operation theaters, a recovery room, and an intensive care unit built through UNDP’s support, Al Salam’s cardiac centre is able to perform complex open and close heart surgeries and provide treatment for people with heart diseases

Photo: UNDP Iraq

A shared vision for Iraq  

Driven by their passion for medicine and desire to serve the people of Iraq, Dr. Muhannad, Dr. Omar, Dr. Mustafa, and Dr. Ammar serve as leaders in Iraq’s healthcare system. With aspirations that go beyond the walls of the hospitals they work at, all four of them have the power to reshape Iraq’s health sector.  

Dr. Muhannad, Dr. Omar, Dr. Mustafa, and Dr. Ammar believe that for the Iraqi health sector to thrive, more investments have to be made in modernising health facilities, constructing new ones in underserved areas, training healthcare professionals, strengthening primary healthcare, and fostering partnerships among government-run and private health institutions.

“Iraq should invest in developing a strong and robust health sector to ensure that every Iraqi has access to quality, affordable healthcare. When people are healthy, they are able to work, learn, and participate in rebuilding our nation more effectively,” Dr. Omar says.  


Since 2015, UNDP’s Funding Facility for Stabilization has completed more than 500 health-related projects. These include the rehabilitation of 19 hospitals and 154 primary health care centres, benefitting over 5.63 million people.   

Fallujah Teaching Hospital, which was rehabilitated through support from the Government of Netherlands and German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), provided through KFW Development Bank, serves more than 750,000 people.   

The rehabilitation of Ramadi Teaching Hospital for Women and Children was funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), provided through KFW Development Bank. It serves more than 400,000 people.

The Cardiac Centre at Al Salam Hospital was established with generous support from the European Union, Netherlands, and Norway. It serves over 30,000 people in Ninewa.