06 November 2008

Growing Iraq's Medical Future

(Photo: Medical students in Baghdad, Source: NPR)
My friend M. sent me an interesting story on the supply of doctors in Iraq:

I had caught part of the story on NPR the day before, but it was great to see the faces of the Iraqi doctors interviewed in the story.

The Iraqi health system has hit on hard times since the war began. Before the invasion in 2003, Medical City in Baghdad was a modern facility. It had a thriving academic center. Doctors tell me they were gearing up to introduce a liver transplant program. Several years later in 2006, I couldn't find anyone who would be able to look after a kidney transplant patient. The hospitals had been looted and damaged. They were hampered by power outages and lack of running water. About half of Iraq's 40,000 doctors had fled the country. Approximately 2000 had been killed. Our military hospitals were the considered the highest acuity facilities in the country.

There have been some sings of progress. As the article states, it has been hard to attract doctors back to Baghdad. Many are staying in Jordan or other neighboring countries. Some have settled in Kurdistan, where there is less daily violence. The most promising source of future doctors in Iraq are homegrown medical students training in Baghdad today. The NPR article profiles Dr. Hamza who has been training young physicians in Baghdad for years. He himself trained to be a doctor there. It was inspiring to see the that the student doctors pictured in the article were women.

From the military hospitals, we have received other news of progress. In January when I was in Balad, we learned that the University Hospital in Tikrit was developing a burn treatment center. Some old problems remain. One Iraqi doctor told us that he didn't dare transfer his patient to a hospital in one city because she was Sunni and was at risk of being killed there.

I have been thrilled to hear of great work from my friend Dr. M. who is a pediatric surgeon in Iraq. Through dangerous and difficult times, he stayed in Iraq to continue providing expert care for children. He did this even though it meant personal risk and periods of separation from family. His program has flourished and he offers full surgical services for children and teaching programs for physicians.

Here is his website:

It is so good to see signs of Iraq's medical system returning in strength. As in all good things, it will be accomplished through the efforts of dedicated and compassionate people who will persevere in spite of the difficulty.

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