Wednesday, June 06, 2007

When Doctors are Heroes

Hala Al-Saraf, right, stands with Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S. Samir Shakir Al-Sumaydi after receiving an award from the Embassy of Iraq for outstanding work in helping her people. Hala now returns to Iraq in hopes of working with Iraqi legislators to create a more sustainable health policy.I've always had a great deal of respect for those who commit to medical professions. All those years of school, then internships and residencies, 80-hour work weeks, all the loans for that expensive education, and all so they can provide the greatest possible service to humanity: saving and improving lives. Of course, doctors in this country make a great deal of money once they get rolling, so that more or less compensates for their sacrifice.

But what if they didn't make all that money? In Iraq, even established doctors earn only the equivalent of a few American dollars a day. They lack anything close to the facilities, equipment, text books, resources and training we have in the U.S. Worst of all, they are constant targets of violence: Iraq’s Ministry of Health reports that 102 doctors and 164 nurses were killed between April 2003 and May 2006, and some 250 Iraqi doctors have been kidnapped in the past two years.

I learned all this and much more about the desperate state of Iraq's public health sector through my work on EPIC's latest Ground Truth interview, with Iraqi public health expert Hala al-Saraf. This is truly a must-read. Hala speaks first-hand about the incredible hardships doctors and medical professionals face in her country, including the forced migration of more than 12,000 physicians who are essential to the health of the Iraqi people.

Yet many young Iraqis seek medical education, even for the lousy salaries and death threats awaiting them once they become doctors. Including Hala herself, who recently returned to Iraq to pursue a career in health policy, these brave men and women are true heroes and peacebuilders, answering their country's desperate cries for help at their own great risk.

To turn things around, Hala argues for a more sustainable approach than what we’ve seen so far from Washington and Baghdad. Instead of building new facilities such as the “Laura Bush” Pediatrics Hospital in Basra, Iraq needs assistance from the U.S. and international community to rehabilitate existing healthcare centers and cultivate a new generation of physicians and healthcare workers.

To learn how Iraqi professionals such as Hala maintain hope in the face of overwhelming odds, and what translating that hope into action can mean for their country, please take a few minutes to read our Ground Truth interview with Hala al-Saraf.

We need more heroes like Hala in Iraq. And we need you to know her story.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Working under the conditions they must face in Iraq is beyond most of our comprehension. To choose such a profession and to choose to stay in Iraq to do their work, takes bravery and dedication.

rwst346 said...

As a serious medical patient, your blog posting makes me weep after the crash of the survival flight carrying a transplant team of four and two pilots in Lake Michigan. I had been a patient of one of the doctors killed. Also let us not forget the nurses and caregivers. Is 'Doctors Without Borders' doing any work in Iraq? Former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, a surgeon, is active in this organization and spent time working in Africa even while Majority Leader of the Senate.

Emily Stivers said...

The Lake Michigan crash was such a horrible tragedy. Can you even imagine living in a country where doctors' lives are routinely threatened? It's just so wrong.

Doctors Without Borders left Iraq in November 2004 due to targeted attacks on international aid organizations. This year, it has begun to provide assistance to Iraqis by partnering with the Red Crescent hospital in Amman, Jordan. Unfortunately, still nothing within Iraq. You can read more at:

http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/news/iraq.cfm

B said...

Aren't the Medical Corps of our military assisting Iraqi citizens on a large scale?

Anonymous said...

There maybe some assistance rom our military right now but Iraq needs doctors and nurses training and staying there.

Emily Stivers said...

Quite right. U.S. military medical personnel are stretched very thin and are also the targets of violence, so they are extremely limited in what they can accomplish. They certainly have no time for training the next generation of Iraqi medical professionals. So what happens when U.S. forces withdraw, and Iraq has nothing left because all its native doctors have fled or been killed?

I hope you all will read the interview with Hala. She has some brilliant ideas for what we can do to avert this crisis.

Anonymous said...

Well done in recognizing a REAL need in any peace in Iraq. I always enjoy youe well written postings!

Roscoe said...

Perhaps the Useless Nations can help with the doctors once a modicum of peace is attained.

Anonymous said...

What I found most important in the interview was the difference in our cultures and how our imposing our own systems is not and will not work.

Purnima said...

This was a really good interview. It would be wonderful if our news media reported these different perspectives on Iraq (and other issues). Instead, we get the same tired controversies and one-upmanship of the pols.
I enjoyed reading this ... thanks.

Emily Stivers said...

Roscoe - the problem with any UN effort is that it would be too little, too late. We can't count on U.S. troop withdrawal or end to violence any time soon, and in the meantime Iraq may be losing its next generation of health professionals. We have to start helping train these young people now in order for Iraq's public health sector to have any chance at a future.

Emily Stivers said...

Anonymous - it's too true. I've heard the same thing from other Iraqis I've met since starting at EPIC. They all say the U.S. is hung up on using solutions that have worked elsewhere, either in the U.S. or Central Asia, with little/no regard for the unique situation and perspective of the Iraqi people. This is perhaps the most critical flaw in U.S. policy towards Iraq: we just don't spend enough time talking to the Iraqis.

Emily Stivers said...

And I would add, in response to Purnima's comment, that the media doesn't spend enough time talking to Iraqis either. Everyone is so concerned with how many people were killed today. That's important, but in my opinion the media at large is failing the American people as well as the Iraqis by shirking its responsibility to tell the whole truth about Iraq. That's why we started the Ground Truth Project in the first place.

reader said...

The media is all about "headlines" and that means violence for the most part. When was the last time anyone can remember seeing anything good reported in a local paper when it comes to Iraq?

So does your average citizen care about "helping" Iraq or it's people? IMO probably not. Right now we just want to get out of there and stop hearing about our boys being killed.

Anonymous said...

They're not really naming a hospital in Iraq after Laura Bush are they? What, do they want to make it a target??

Emily Stivers said...

Reader - that's exactly the problem we're trying to correct. The media, and the average American, SHOULD care what's really going on in Iraq. Regardless of when U.S. troops come home, our country has a moral responsibility to the Iraqi people. We broke it, we bought it. And if you want evidence that, in at least the case of the Iraqi public health sector, it wasn't already broken when we came in, check out Hala's description of the history of healthcare in Iraq. It's fascinating stuff, all there in the interview.

Anonymous - although it was originally slated as the Laura Bush Pediatrics Center, the incredible problems in its construction have led to her name quietly being pulled from the project. You can read about the problems on the first page of the interview.

Geoff Schaefer said...

The name absolutely should be pulled from the hospital. It just shows an absolute disrespect for their culture and their future. Why do we feel the need to name it after the First Lady? Did not a single person sit down and figure out what that would look like in the eyes of Iraqi's? It's these little things that can sometimes make a difference (even if a little one) and we can't even get that right. We should have sat down with Iraqi medical professionals, or prominent leaders, and asked them what they would like to name it. After all, we're over there helping THEM in THEIR country. We don't need a hospital over there reminding them who it is that isn't doing enough for their safety and success.

jt said...

Thanks Geoff, you said it all for me!

Emily Stivers said...

Laura Bush has done a lot of great work with children's hospitals and I think they were just trying to honor that by naming it after her.

But you're absolutely right, this was not an opportune moment to do so. The Iraqis didn't need or want the facility, and have no sense of ownership over the project.

So the construction is unfinished, a great deal of money has been wasted, and it's not only an embarassment to the U.S. but is shameful in light of the truly respect-worthy, honest and important work the First Lady has done.

Geoff Schaefer said...

You're welcome JT - just watching your back haha. And like Emily said, it is a shame though. Regardless of your politics, Laura Bush has done some fantastic work over there in that respect and it's a shame that they jumped at the opportunity to reference her instead of waiting for a better time/project and not wasting an opportunity to do something worthwhile. Oh well... While it is frustrating, we shouldn't detract from the real point of the blog and the important suggestions that Hala was laid out for us. I encourage all of you to check it out as the more informed we are from primary sources, the better we are able to formulate our opinions about it. Information is key to success.

 
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