Finland boosting coronavirus healthcare aid for Iraq, Somalia

The Finnish Ambassador in Baghdad says there have been few improvements in Iraq's healthcare system since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

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File picture of women in Baghdad, summer 2019 / Credit: iStock

Finland is strengthening its support for two countries hit hard by the coronavirus crisis, with extra funding for healthcare initiatives in Iraq and Somalia.

In Iraq, the Finnish government is channeling €2 million through a United Nations agency to help the country’s healthcare system, including buying personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, to increase capabilities for testing labs, and to increase the number of isolation wards for people who become sick.

“The coronavirus situation in this country is not very positive. The restrictions have been very strict from the beginning, the curfew still goes on, but people are able to move around during daytime. But still we have nearly 50,000 cases and maybe 1,500 casualties. The numbers are pretty high” explains Vesa Häkkinen, Finland’s Ambassador in Iraq.

Finland has provided €11 million in aid to Iraq since 2011, and supports reconstruction in parts of the country that were liberated from Islamic State. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that terrorist organisation continue to be active in Iraq, trying to take advantage of the social and economic instability caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

“The healthcare system here is non-existent. To be honest, it’s very problematic. After Saddam’s year’s, from 2003 and onwards, there hasn’t been too many improvements, and the structure has been very weak. People are struggling to improve the system” Häkkinen tells News Now Finland in a phone interview from Baghdad.

“The World Health Organisation is helping a lot but Finland also saw the importance of facilitating improvements in the Iraqi healthcare system even just to handle this acute coronavirus crisis” he adds.

File picture of women in Somalia hospital / Credit: Finnish Embassy Mogadishu

Healthcare help for Somalia increases

Meanwhile, Finland is also providing €3 million more to the United Nations Population Fund UNFPA for Somalia, to “safeguard the country’s sexual and reproductive health and rights”. 

Sexual and reproductive health includes, for example, services related to maternal health, contraception and family planning.

“As with most crises, this pandemic has severely disrupted access to life-saving sexual and reproductive health services and hampered efforts to respond to gender-based violence, at a time when women and girls need these services most” Anders Thomsen, UNFPA’s Country Representative in Somalia, says in a statement.

The funding will guarantee the cohesion of maternal health services and will also be given to obtain protective equipment and national coronavirus testing.

“In these times of crisis, we want to intensify our efforts, together with UNFPA and the government, to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity in Somalia,” says Erik Lundberg, Finland’s Ambassador to Somalia.

Finland’s total aid commitment to Somalia in 2020 is now €6 million, and targeted assistance over recent years has helped Hegeisa hospital lower its infant mortality rate from 24% in 2014 to just 5% in 2017.

More than 700 health workers were trained with Finnish support during the same period.