The Iraqi government sponsors a health care system that provides Western-style treatment by doctors, hospitals and dispensaries free of charge. Private health care is also available, used mostly by the wealthy. All private facilities are subject to government supervision.

Until the Gulf War, Iraq had good public medical facilities. The government sponsored national vaccination programs that greatly lowered the incidence of diseases such as diphtheria, tuberculosis and measles. In addition, Iraqis were eligible for social benefits such as seniors' pensions, unemployment insurance, paid maternity leave and sick leave. In the 1980's the government expanded the country's hospital network, building more than 30 new centres; it also encouraged people to become doctors. However, the country experienced a chronic shortage of trained personnel and a discrepancy between the level of care available in cities and rural areas. Although physicians who trained at government expense were required to spend 12 years in the public health service, most resisted appointments to rural posts.

Unfortunately, the Gulf War and ongoing economic sanctions against Iraq have greatly compromised the health care system and quality of life for Iraqis. Many hospitals now lack adequate medical provisions and experience chronic shortages of power and water. Despite a UN "oil-for-food program," food shortages in Iraq have been severe. During the last decade, poor sanitation, contaminated water, malnutrition and lack of proper health care facilities have resulted in a soaring infant mortality rate and rising incidence of infectious diseases, such as cholera, dysentery, typhoid and tuberculosis, as well as psychological disorders. Numerous international relief organizations have been working in Iraq for years to help. However, accurate current statistics on the population, as well as information on the country's current social system, are difficult to obtain because of ongoing unrest in Iraq.

Particularly in northern Iraq, people have traditionally used home remedies and herbal medicines; these treatments can also be purchased at a large bazaar in Baghdad. As a folk remedy, orange blossom water is said to prevent heart attacks.

  Did you know?
Iraqis use wildflowers such as chamomile to help sooth agitated nerves.