BAGHDAD, 13 November 2007 (IRIN) – Male gynecologists are being targeted by Islamic extremists in Iraq as they are accused of invading the privacy of women. Women’s NGOs have raised concerns as there are few women gynecologists in the country and their male counterparts are scared to continue working.“Because of the extremists’ religious views, doctors are scared to continue with their work and the number of women gynecologists is very low and cannot meet the demand,” said Mayada Zuhair, spokeswoman for the Women’ Rights Association (WRA).
“Extremists say that [male] doctors are not allowed to see the private parts of women and two male doctors were reportedly killed last week after leaving their clinics. A message was left near their bodies saying that was the end for any doctor who insists in invading the privacy of Muslim women,” Mayada added.
An Iraqi Medical Association (IMA) spokesman, Walid Rafi, told IRIN it knew of at least 22 male gynecologists who had been sent threatening letters.
“In one case the extremists tried to carry out their threat. They kidnapped the son of a doctor and only released him after the doctor had closed his clinic in Karada district, in Baghdad,” Rafi said. “We are worried about women’s health in this country. Few of them have access to good medical care and now with the fear of male gynecologists, few remain in the job and this could have a serious impact in the coming months.”
Rafi added that aggression against doctors who treat women had also been reported in the northern provinces. “We don’t know the exact number of doctors who have been killed but we can confirm that four doctors were killed in the north for refusing to circumcise young girls.”
Case in point
Yasser Issam, a gynecologist in Baghdad, said that since 20 October there had been two attempts on his life and he had received a letter asking him to stop treating women in his clinic as he was offending the privacy of Muslim women.
“I didn’t have a choice. I preferred to leave my job altogether with two other colleagues who were in the same situation. We left the clinic in the hands of two female colleagues who later said they could not cope with the demand and have started to turn down patients,” Issam said.
The Ministry of Health has said it is investigating the cases and has asked the Ministry of Interior to protect doctors and nurses countrywide.
Heath services in Iraq have been seriously undermined by the shortage of doctors. According to the IMA, at least 75 percent of doctors, pharmacists and nurses have left their jobs at universities, clinics and hospitals. Of these, at least 55 percent have fled abroad.
“There are days when we find more than 80 patients per doctor in our hospital, an average of 170 daily. All of them are divided among the two women gynecologists who are left in our clinic,” said Afaf Abdul-Qahar, a gynecologist at Karada Maternity Centre, in the capital.