U.S. Army doctors helping repair damage done to medicine in Iraq
BAGHDAD — U.S. Army doctors are trying to repair the damage done to Iraqi medicine during the reign of Saddam Hussein when, as one doctor put it, “medicine stopped.”
The soldier/physicians held a three-day clinic this week on emergency obstetrics, and there is hope that such professional development classes will become regular events and cover a wide range of topics.
“Our doctors are very interested in these courses,” said Dr. Hassan Baker, general director for the ministry of health.
“We’ll do as much as we can,” said Dr. (Lt. Col.) Mark Harris, division surgeon for the 1st Armored Division. “I told them, we are here for the Iraqi people.”
Medical advancements were minimal under Saddam. As a result, doctors are “basically stuck in the late ’70s, early ’80s,” said Dr. (Lt. Col.) Kelly Murray, regimental surgeon for the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment based at Fort Polk, La.
“Medicine stopped. In the ’90s, they couldn’t even get medical journals,” he said.
Dr. Noorhan Solomon, a gynecologist, said only people selected by the government were allowed to leave the country for additional training. The others were stuck with a stagnant profession as the rest of the world moved on.
The initial class was called “Advanced Life Support in Obstetrics,” a lesson in dealing with emergencies related to pregnancies or births. It was provided by the American Academy of Family Physicians, which waived the usual fees for the course.
“This would cost us several thousand dollars back in the States,” Harris said.
About 30 doctors showed up, nearly all of them women because religious sensitivity in the country means nearly all gynecologists are female.
Dr. (Capt.) Lisa Foglia, now assigned to the 1st Armored Division but ordinarily at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, said the course is designed to develop teaching methods so the doctors in attendance can pass along the information.
“This is a group of professionals,” she said. “We don’t want to presume we are teaching them something they don’t already know.”
Dr. Ramzia Gabiee, head of the primary health care department at the health ministry, said the teaching methods impressed her.
Knowledge, she said, she can get from a book.
“I’ve learned a lot about the teaching methods,” she said. “(American doctors) have the knowledge, a lot of knowledge. They also know how to teach that knowledge.”
There is much for the Iraqi doctors to learn about obstetrics care. For example, they use Valium as an anesthetic during births, not epidurals, which are common in America. The use of ultrasounds in Iraq is extremely limited.
The Americans plan to leave behind some of the teaching tools so they can be used in future classes. They had mannequins, CD-ROMs and other teaching tools for the class.
They expect the Iraqi doctors to quickly catch up with what more than two decades of a dictatorship has cost them.
“Their knowledge level is the same as ours,” said Foglia, but they have not had access to new methods and new technology.
Added Murray: “They’re incredibly good doctors — well-trained at what they do. They just didn’t have the equipment.”