Kerala nurses have, for long, migrated across the world and several have worked in Iraq over the past few decades. But war and strife in the country, along with the opening of new avenues in other countries, have reduced the flow of nurses.
According to a 2013 The Lancet report, health services in Iraq have been struggling to recover from years of war and political interference. It claims that the health workforce is not adequately distributed in the country. The Iraq Ministry of Health said the ratio ought to be one physician per 1,000 people and four nurses per physician. With a population of 32,22,7000, Iraq only has 7.8 doctors and 14.7 nurses per 10,000 people, said the report. Thus, Iraq has been recruiting nurses in large numbers over the past few years.
It is far cheaper for an Indian nurse to get a work visa to Iraq as compared to other destinations in the Gulf or Europe. Two years ago, a nurse’s visa to Iraq was available for less than Rs 1 lakh. Most of the nurses who went last year paid an average of Rs 1.5 lakh. The Iraq health ministry also does not not insist on any tough professional test.
These two factors make Iraq an attractive avenue for nurses from poor families who cannot pay large amounts of money — sometimes as much as Rs 10 lakh — for visas. Iraq also became a destination for nurses who had studied either general nursing or the midwifery course. The average monthly salary offered is Rs 35,000.
Many Kerala villages, particularly those with a Christian population, have success stories of nurses who have gone abroad. They build huge houses, create wealth in the rural areas, take their husbands with them and create aspirations among village girls. A number of nurses now employed in Iraq hail from economically backward families in villages along the Western Ghats.
Kerala Non-Resident Keralites Affairs Department CEO, P Sudeep, said the state does not have any comprehensive data on the number of nurses currently employed in Iraq. Most leave the country from Delhi or other major cities. Thus, finding even a rough number is impossible, he says.