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School Assists Iraqi Relief Efforts

Following the war with Iraq, the United States must deal with the difficult task of rebuilding the country and meeting the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. Faculty members from the School’s Center for International Emergency, Disaster, and Refugee Studies (CIEDRS) became involved with relief efforts even before the fighting started in March.

Dr. VanRooyan tours an Iraqi pediatric hospital in January 2003.

At press time, relief efforts were just beginning as the U.S. military began restoring order and establishing an interim government. Basic services such as electricity, running water, and medical care still needed to be re-established in many parts of the country.

In April, Gilbert Burnham, MD, PhD, associate professor in International Health and co-director of CIEDRS, went to Amman, Jordan, to help the international relief organization CARE coordinate the distribution of food. “This is more than making sure trucks get to where they are supposed to. We will be monitoring the nutritional status of vulnerable populations and making sure things are get better, not worse,” explained Dr. Burnham. According to Dr. Burnham, CARE and the World Food Program expect to deliver between 12,000 and 16,000 tons of food to the people each day. Eventually he says CIEDRS could be involved in training public health workers in Iraq. Iraq has very few qualified public health officials.

Relief workers have a difficult task ahead them, according to Michael VanRooyen, MD, MPH, co-director of CIEDRS and vice chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the School of Medicine. He said Iraqi’s fragile health infrastructure has deteriorated under 12 years of United Nations sanctions and Saddam Hussein’s rule. “Before the war, 60 percent of the population relied on a complex food distribution network set up under the Oil for Food Program,” said Dr. VanRooyen, who was part of a team of researchers who traveled to Iraq in January to assess the country’s public health, water, food distribution, and health care delivery systems.

The Iraqi medical facilities must also be replenished. Dr. VanRooyen explained that Iraqi doctors are well trained, but lack supplies and equipment, a situation that was made worse with recent episodes of looting. “The long-term need will be to establish a functioning medical practice system. The Iraqi government did all of the public health surveillance, which now will need to be replaced,” said Dr. VanRooyen.

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