Imagine trying to find a doctor or nurse in a country where 90% of the doctors fled after multiple devastating wars, an insurgency with criminal elements kidnapping physicians for ransom and a medical community that spent 35 years locked in a closet away from the rest of the world’s medical system by the dictatorial government under Saddam Hussein!
The Iraq medical community has a long ways to go before recovering to its previous expertise! At one time this country's medicine was the envy of the region! Now they are re-building with American assistance! We spoke with Dr. Adel Hanson, linguist/medical advisor, USF-I Health Affairs, Iraq Training and Advisory Mission (ITAM); Col. Bernard DeKoning, ITAM and medical advisor, and Lt. Col. Andrew Kosmowski, CJTF-76 Surgery Cell about the current status of Iraqi medical efforts. The medical system is divided into three parts: the Ministry of Defense (MoD), the Ministry of the Interior (MoI) and Ministry of Health (MoH). These different entities support the military (MoD), the national police (MoI) and civilians (MoH) and we discussed the first two and touched on the third.
According to the Roundtable announcement, “Those wounded after insurgent explosions are lucky to survive their wounds, even minor ones. However, Iraqi MEDEVAC teams have made great advancements in their procedures. Iraqi medical professionals are making advancements in training and ultimately in saving lives.”
Prior to 2003 the United Nations sanctions and subsequent criminal activity in the Oil for Food programs the medical supplies and equipment in Iraq were simply not available or very limited. After the US invaded, the military units that held much of the medical capability were broken and most Iraqis had no access to care. The Iraqi Training and Advisory Mission (ITAM) is changing that as they provide training and resources for the Iraqi medical personnel! One aspect with many positive results is the training of a response force in the Ministry of Defense with MI-17 (Hip) helicopters. While not a dedicated medevac platform the helicopters are directed to respond with medical teams as needed in a joint US Air Force and US Army training program for helicopter crews and medical teams. They are involved in exercises for mass casualty response and future standby alert crews during potential trouble spots. The MoD has six MI-17s available with four trained crews for this mission and continue to grow crews through joint training efforts with the ITAM Air Force aircrews and flight surgeon team.
The Army ITAM team is creating capacity and “training the trainer” type of courses are critical to the effort! At Camp Taji, Iraq medics have a schoolhouse for these efforts until a new training center/hospital is constructed in downtown Baghdad. The new facility is intended to be finished in November and will provide connectivity world wide and back to the States for continued training opportunities through social media type of portals! One of the challenges mentioned by the ITAM team was retention of medics in the MoD and MoI due to pay and location issues. The Ministry of Health provides better pay, flexibility and relocation is by choice versus orders in the Defense and Interior programs. This makes it difficult to retain the trained personnel (similar to issues that US medical programs with retention in the past) who after training prefer the MoH route.
However, the doctors expressed some great optimism for the future of the Iraqi medical community! In the last 10-11 months they are seeing doctors return to Iraq from Jordan and the United Kingdom! With stability has come a reduction in criminal elements and less fear and the return of these experienced medics is giving a boost to the efforts of the medical community to return to their previous level of expertise. Dr Hanson said that it showed that “the people have not lost faith in the country”. The ITAM team described the Iraqi medical efforts as at a “crossroads” while “well poised” to create a world class system with a great future!
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Photo Credit: Maj. Adnan Naji, a senior medical officer and commander of the Taji Location Command Medical Clinic level 2, explains, in Arabic, the technique used by Spc. Christopher Graham, a brigade medic and health specialist with the 96th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), and a Pleasant Grove, Utah, native, to apply bandages to a simulated open abdominal wound on Staff Sgt. Michael Carlson, a medic with the 1161st Task Force, 541st Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 96th Sust. Bde., 13th ESC and a Yakima, Wash., native, Jan. 13 at Camp Taji, Iraq. Carlson and Graham are instructors training Iraqi Army medical officers on combat medical procedures at Camp Taji.
Photo Credit: Airmen from the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group unload a patient from an Iraqi helicopter during medical evacuation training for the Iraqi air force Dec. 21, 2009, at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. The purpose of the training is to help Ministry of Defense officials strengthen their health care system for Iraqi troops. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brittany Bateman)
Photo Credit: Iraqi air force airmen put their skills to the test during medical evacuation training Dec. 21, 2009, at the Air Force Theater Hospital, at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. The purpose of the training is to help Ministry of Defense officials strengthen their health care system for Iraqi troops. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brittany Bateman)