An Interview with Head of Mosul’s Treatment Center, Omer Taha
Omer Taha has been director of the Jiyan Foundation’s treatment center in Mosul since it opened it in 2018. In this conversation he talks about the current challenges and successes of the daily work in a destroyed city.
The Jiyan treatment center in Mosul has been in existence since 2018. How would you describe this first period?
It was tough but we achieved a lot. I am proud that despite the difficulties the local authorities have repeatedly put in our way, we did not give up and finally opened the center in 2018. In a city that looks back on a three-year ISIS occupation and then a long, bloody war of liberation, such a center is very important.
What have you achieved so far?
We are continuously reaching more and more people in need of our services, people of all ages. Most of them come to get free medication. Since the ISIS occupation the Iraqi government has abolished health insurance for the people of Mosul and this has not yet been reinstated. Among the population, mental illnesses are still strongly stigmatized, most clients come first for medical care or medication and then return for psychotherapeutic treatment on the recommendation of their doctor. This process is very effective toward destigmatizing mental illness, and for those that come to us, this is already a huge step toward recovery.
Given the lack of infrastructure in Mosul, the roads are destroyed and public transportation is irregular, we are very happy to have so many patients coming to us daily. However, it’s unlikely that so many people would come if we did not refund them the roundtrip taxi fare. Many people live in such poverty that they save the difference from our reimbursements for taxis and the much cheaper bus tickets to buy food. We are very happy to provide these reimbursements, because it means that we can reach many people that would otherwise go without treatment.
Could you talk a little bit more about the situation in Mosul? What are the current challenges in the city?
Mosul is a city in ruins. The east side of the Tigris is almost completely destroyed. More than two years after the liberation, no house has been rebuilt, and no road has been freed from the rubble. The majority of the city’s hospitals no longer exist. The few that still do are all on the west bank of the Tigris and are poorly equipped. There is no single intensive care unit in all of Mosul, a metropolis of three million people. Of the five destroyed bridges across the river, only one has been rebuilt so far, and it can only be used in one direction at a time. So, it may be that someone on the west side of the city needs up to four hours to reach the other side. In cases of serious injury or illness it can often be too late before reaching one of the remaining hospitals. This happened to a friend of mine who did not make it to the hospital on the west bank after a car accident on the east side. He died of an injury that would have otherwise been easily treated.
Why has so little rebuilding work been completed or even started?
I ask myself the same thing. The Iraqi central government shows little interest in making life easier for the people here. The city is systematically neglected in my opinion, this is reflected not only in the lack of reconstruction, but also in the unwillingness to assure the people of Mosul their health insurance.
What is needed to reduce people’s suffering and how can the Jiyan Foundation Center do its part?
We are already helping to reduce the suffering of people in the city. We give people access to free medicine that they urgently need, and offer them psychotherapeutic treatment. As I said, many of our patients are just recognizing their own need for psychotherapeutic treatment, and I’m proud that we can be that conduit of realization. Through word of mouth we have been able to reach many people, and that’s great. As we help more people, they then share their experiences with their communities, and we can gradually expand our network this way – for free. However, we are still new here and our center is in need of more resources to treat the variety of serious illnesses.
Of course, nothing can replace a long-term development strategy for the city of Mosul. People need access to adequate medical care, access to health insurance, they need to be able to move freely and safely in their city, and above all, to be given opportunities to earn money to feed their families and rebuild their homes. I’m very proud that the Jiyan Foundation can contribute to some of these needs in a real, practical way, but we cannot do this alone. We need the support of not only the local community here in Mosul, but the international community as well. We’ve proven to be very effective with the work we are doing, and our patients are very happy to come to the center. Now it’s a matter of gathering enough resources to expand that work, reach more people, and make the biggest positive impact we can for our patients and the city of Mosul.
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