Across Borders: Reaching Out to Iraq
By Deborah Goodman
Thirty years of armed conflicts and a brutal dictatorship have
eroded the health of the people of Iraq and devastated their system
of health care. Understaffed, lacking supplies, and with ongoing
concerns for their own safety, Iraqi doctors and other health care
personnel are attempting to deal with enormous needs.
Iraqi doctors and other health care personnel are attempting to deal with enormous needs.
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson traveled
to Iraq at the end of February accompanied by a group of senior
Federal health care officials that included SAMHSA Administrator
Charles G. Curie, M.A., A.C.S.W. Their mission? To explore how the
United States can help rebuild the health care delivery system in
Iraq and restore the health of the Iraqi people.
Using the analogy of the U.S. Marshall Plan in rebuilding Europe
after World War II, Secretary Thompson said, "Because our health,
our economies, and our humanitarian values have become truly global
in nature, our responses must likewise be global in nature."
Six months prior to the trip, Secretary Thompson and other Federal
officials met in the United States with the Iraqi Minister of Health,
Khudair Abbas, M.D., and the senior advisor for health to the Coalition
Provisional Authority, James K. Haveman, M.S.W. At the meeting,
Dr. Abbas and Mr. Haveman identified the three areas most in need
of rebuilding within the health care system: surveillance of infectious
diseases, oncology, and mental health. As a result, Mr. Curie served
as part of the visiting team.
In Baghdad, the team visited the Ministry of Health and the Al Mansour hospital, as well as the Al Alwiya women's clinic.
In Baghdad, the team visited the Ministry of Health and the Al
Mansour hospital, as well as the Al Alwiya women's clinic.
Iraq's ancient history is distinguished. Often called the
"Cradle of Civilization," Iraq (Mesopotamia) was the site
of the world's first constitutional system and a center for
the study of medicine, science, philosophy, and the arts. The world's
first psychiatric hospital was built in Baghdad in 753 A.D.
Today, in addition to the lack of electricity, fuel, and safe drinking
water, many hospitals lack basic equipment and supplies. In a country
of 25 million people, there are fewer than 100 psychiatrists, according
to a report from the World Health Organization. There are no clinical
psychologists and very few social workers. Services and psychiatric
medications for mental health treatment are also scarce.
The country lacks community mental health services, and the country's
only long-term care hospital for people with serious mental illnesses
was looted and vandalized near the end of major combat in April
2003. Many of the patients ran away and are still missing.
Ordinary Iraqi citizens have been traumatized by war and debilitated
by years of living under an omnipresent, repressive dictatorship
with constant surveillance and where a chance remark or spontaneous
action could result in punishment or imprisonment.
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