Founder of the Al Hayat Scientific Bureau Ali Mosawi discusses the path to a safer Iraq
In 1974, my family and I were forced to flee Iraq. We made our new home in the UK, where we found happiness, fairness and opportunity. Even so, as time passed, it became apparent that while I had left Iraq, that country never left me.
Returning in 1991 to visit family after the first Gulf War, I made a visit to the Iraqi Red Crescent. There, I saw first-hand the turbulence wrought by the war and, in particular, the grave state of Iraq’s healthcare system. I was told of the desperate need for medical supplies across the country. With Saddam Hussein’s government refusing to implement UN demands and pay substantial debts owed to pharmaceutical companies, a country already crippled by conflict was left with a chronic shortage of essential vaccines.
I travelled to Iraq many times that year, each time taking small donations of medicine with me – but this wasn’t sustainable. As the situation deteriorated further, it was evident that a more urgent solution was required. In collaboration with the Iraq Ministry of Health, I entered into negotiations with the UK government and Bank of England; by using frozen Iraqi assets to repay outstanding debts, it was possible to finance a consistent supply of vaccines to the country.
This was my first involvement in Iraq’s health sector, and it has shaped my perception of my work ever since. It made clear to me the power of close partnership and its ability to give rise to real change. My company, Al Hayat, was founded according to principles learnt in this period. We continue to work to ensure safe, reliable access to medicine for the people of Iraq.
In 1989, Iraq had the largest budget for healthcare in the whole of the Middle East. Now, as it makes strides towards stability following the tragedy of ISIS, there should be no bar to achieving an even greater market. But as recent events have thrown into sharp relief, it is not just the spectre of conflict that casts a shadow over the country’s road to recovery.
The endemic challenges presented by corruption, unemployment and infrastructure feature prominently in any conversation on Iraq’s economic landscape. We experience a microcosm of these challenges in the healthcare sector with very real consequences. While the Ministry of Health has made many positive reforms, further tackling corruption and instilling rigid regulation is key to building a stable, prosperous economy.
This year, the IMF rightly highlighted that the true cost of corruption is greater than the sum of money lost; it diminishes public trust, drains state resources, and fundamentally eats away at our natural expectations of quality, safety and cost. An economic culture of substandard product and unregulated service becomes an accepted state of affairs.
I have seen first-hand the tragic consequences of this reality: sickness left untreated with ineffective vaccines, medical equipment malfunctioning at a vital moment, a public left with no option but to put faith in treatments of uncertain provenance.
Of course, it is easy to expose the flaws and the damage of corruption and poor compliance, it is hard to work quietly and consistently to improve and honour the system we have. Over the past 25 years, Al Hayat has done so by placing a focus on compliance, regulation and good governance above all else. We are proud to have maintained our essential service though periods of profound change, while never compromising on our principles. We do so because we believe that all those who operate in an emerging market have a duty to ensure fairness, safety and competitiveness.
Strong, long-term partnerships with responsible, global pharmaceutical companies have been invaluable to this end.
The healthcare sector – and Iraq as a whole – needs stable investment and international commercial partners; it needs their strong processes, governance framework and expertise. If those with the ability to invest in change overlook this, then who else can provide it? Investment in these core principles creates a simple, mutually beneficial circle: it provides a safe product; which creates a stable, healthy and competitive market; which creates growth for the country; and, ultimately, greater opportunity for investment.
For those in the diplomatic service to promote these ideals at every opportunity can only accelerate this vital transformation.
There is little doubt that investing in a compliant, stable Iraq will guarantee greater security for future entrants. I am assured that Iraq offers a great and largely untapped commercial opportunity. There is a clear path to a competitive, strongly regulated, and successful market. But we, and other companies like ours, need help to continue to build on this foundation.
It is for this reason that I am thankful that many of our clients have avoided the temptation of the easy road, instead dedicating significant resources to compliance and investing in a sustainable future.
We need to promote transparency, introduce accountability for unsavoury business practices and work with the government to toughen regulatory controls. From this collaborative platform, I am confident we can rebuild trust in both our system and its output.
My hope is that the beautiful, safe and prosperous country which I remember from my youth will get the chance it deserves to rebuild its prosperity. Iraq is a nation lacking in stability, not in talent, ambition or resources. We need investment, regulation and expertise to find a path to the former, and only then can we truly realise the latter.