Located on Erbil’s 60 Meter Street, the Medya Diagnostic Center is the first of its kind in Iraq, and its labs fully meet international standards, says Raman Pollus, the center’s medical director. Photo: Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Since the state-of-the-art Medya Diagnostic Center in Erbil opened for business, patients in the Kurdistan Region or other parts of Iraq no longer have to travel abroad for expensive tests that were not possible before, its directors say.
“I personally know people who, before we opened this center, had to travel to Turkey or Jordan twice a year” for tests, says Sherko Qashani, Medya’s business development manager. “Now bear in mind, you had to pay travel costs and hotel costs -- for a test that costs $20 or $30,” he explains.
Located on Erbil’s 60 Meter Street, the Medya Diagnostic Center is the first of its kind in Iraq, and its labs fully meet international standards, says Raman Pollus, the center’s medical director.
After more than two years in the making, the diagnostic center received official accreditation in February from the College of American Pathologists, which certifies medical labs that meet a rigorous professional checklist to guarantee top-notch patient care.
Officials at Medya say they can do more than 100 different medical tests, offering them to Kurds and Iraqis who previously were often forced to travel abroad.
In order to meet the headquarters’ strict requirements and assure delivery of the best services, the center had to spend more than US$1.5 million, its founders say.
“We sent staff for training, hired international consultants to supervise the process and we began spending on all the requirements,” says Qashani. “They gave us a checklist with several hundred items -- from the structure, from the kind of equipment, to the staff training, to the chemicals used, to the processes and the procedures.”
Iraq once had one of the Arab world’s best healthcare systems, but it all deteriorated following the invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi forces in 1990 and the subsequent embargo on the country by the UN Security Council.
Kurdish officials admit that the Kurdistan Region’s health sector has its flaws, and for that reason they often seek the assistance of outside experts.
The region’s Health Minister Rekawt Rashid recently signed an agreement with Jordanian health officials to provide expertise to Kurdish health workers.
Qashani says the center has to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, and be constantly vigilant, to assure the lab maintains required standards.
“We have to bring chemicals from places like Germany, because the chemicals here aren’t sufficient enough and it all costs money,” he says, explaining just one of the problems.
The Kurdistan Region has a universal healthcare system, but in 2012 the Kurdish government allocated only 4.8 percent of its annual budget on health, which the health minister admitted was not enough.
“This is very low,” Rashid told Niqash news website last year. “Most countries allocate more than nine percent to the health sector.”
Government officials in Erbil say that by cutting the region’s annual budget, Baghdad causes further strain on public services, including healthcare.
For its part, Kurdistan’s Investment Board has stepped in to encourage private investment in the health sector.
“There has been a lack of investment in this sector,” says Kamaran Mufti, head of the Investment Board. “Thus far $195 million has been invested in around 17 projects in the region.”
The idea of private hospitals is still new to many in the Kurdistan Region, and according to Pollus, the fear the high costs has been a deterrent to many people.
“In the beginning people came here and saw the large building and would say, ‘this building is only for VIP’s,’ and we lost money in the beginning,” he told Rudaw. “But this is open for all people and we offer certain tests for as low as 5,000 Iraqi Dinars [US$3].”