Iraq, Wars & Cancer Treatment: An IRIS Fellow research update

In December 2016, IRIS Fellow James ‘Mac’ Skelton wrapped up phase 1 of his 11-month Social Science Research Council (SSRC) grant. This phase involved interviews with displaced Iraqi families undergoing cancer treatments in hospitals located in Sulaimani, Erbil, and Kirkuk. The interviews shed light on the crucial nexus between displacement and healthcare. For instance, the data revealed that many families from Anbar province were forced to remain displaced not principally because of ongoing insecurity, but because of the destruction of healthcare and infrastructure in Ramadi, coupled with the obstruction of roads to the nearest alternative, Baghdad. Moreover, the material and financial losses involved in displacement placed an enormous burden on oncology-related treatment and pharmaceutical purchases. Displaced cancer patients from Anbar, Salahaddin and Mosul who lost homes and possessions must now face the absence of work opportunities in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), which is particularly difficult given the money required for cancer-related tests and medicines. Oncology is technically state-provided throughout Iraq, but rampant shortages require individual purchases.

The 2017 phase of Skelton’s research on Iraqi’s journeys for cancer care begins with a new collaboration with the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC). Collaborating with the team from AUBMC’s Oncology/Hematology Division and Conflict Medicine Program, Skelton will interview Iraqi patients visiting AUBMC for cancer care and will collect data on socio-economic levels, treatment expectations, and oncology-related expenditures. AUBMC is one of the Middle East’s largest providers of cancer care to Iraqis. The phenomenon of care-seeking abroad has arisen since 2003 due to the war-related deterioration of oncology services in Iraq and the ongoing scarcity of radiotherapy, diagnostic equipment, etc.

Skelton will return to Iraqi Kurdistan this spring to continue research. He is grateful for the assistance of recent AUIS graduates Lana Khaled and Rand Hasan Khayoon as well as current AUIS student Abdullah Shamal.

Click here to listen to a podcast of Skelton's latest IRIS lecture on the impact of wars on Iraq's healthcare system since 1980.