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The Center for Refugee and Disaster Relief



CRDR grant helps bring two Iraqi physicians to the Johns Hopkins Visiting Scholar Summer Program
They return to Iraq with tools to help rebuild a shattered health system

Melinda Morton
Melinda Morton, MD, MPH
Fellow, Dept. of Emergency Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Associate, Center for Refugee and Disaster Response at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

A stable healthcare system is vital to a stable society. But decades of turmoil in Iraq have created an enormous deficit in Iraq’s capacity to deliver adequate health care and to educate future health care providers. With the help of funding from the Center for Refugee and Disaster Response (CRDR), and under the auspices of the Iraq HOPE project, Iraqi doctors attended two intensive months of courses covering topics such as emergency medicine, community health, and public health research methods.

Iraq HOPE is the initial project of the Crisis Health Initiative. Dr. Melinda Morton is Founder and Co- Director of this CRDR partner.

The goal of the Crisis Health Initiative is to establish an informal network of U.S. university students and faculty with their counterparts in regions afflicted by crisis and conflict. Collaborative programs, such as Iraq HOPE (Health Opportunities through Partnerships in Education), will work to bridge the gap between immediate crisis assistance, now being supplied by excellent aid agencies, and long-term education and reconstruction efforts aimed at preparing a stressed health system to move forward. As the first two Iraqi physicians return home to share their knowledge with students and faculty, Iraq HOPE is making a significant contribution to improved Iraqi medical and public health systems.

Iraq HOPE is the realization of a goal set by Dr. Melinda Morton. A captain in the U.S. Army, Dr. Morton became involved in international humanitarian assistance while working with the Department of Defense’s Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine.  She became acquainted with the urgent needs in Iraq and set out to find partners who wanted to help rebuild medical services in that country. The Medical Alliance for Iraq, headed by Dr. Michael Brennan, was especially helpful as Dr. Morton made vital connections in Iraq. Importantly, CRDR’s Dr. Gilbert Burnham supported the concept with advice and a $10,000 grant, which was augmented by monies from the Dean’s office.  Delighted to see their vision become reality, Dr. Morton said, "We feel that providing educational opportunities to qualified Iraqi physicians is a vital way of helping build the human capacity that is so desperately needed in the aftermath of the war and decades of neglect of the health system under Saddam Hussein.  This program is one small way of bringing hope to a people that has suffered so much." 

Several School of Public Health students and faculty worked with Dr. Morton on developing the Crisis Health Initiative. Its co-director, Allen Andrews, is a Hopkins MPH student who has been cultivating partnerships with other U.S. universities. Recently, the University of California San Francisco School of Public Health has indicated its interest in hosting Iraq HOPE doctors early next year, and the group is also pursuing exchange and telemedicine projects with other U.S. universities.

Online distance learning will play an increasingly important role for Iraq HOPE as physicians, faculty and students in Iraq benefit from programs originating at the Johns Hopkins Telemedicine Center’s Center for Clinical Global Health Education. In addition to its many existing courses, the Center will be delivering programs that respond to specific needs as proposed by Iraqi physicians.

The Iraq HOPE program is a two-way street, says Dr. Morton.  We can’t approach crisis-related health problems and procedures with the mind set of physicians practicing in the United States. The wonderful part of the personal encounters with Iraq HOPE visitors is that we will learn from them what is useful, applicable and culturally appropriate to their on-the-ground situations. The visiting physicians will then return to spread this knowledge to future generations of Iraqi physicians and public health scholars, to assist in long-term development efforts.

Dr. Morton projects that the Crisis Health Initiative will give rise to similar efforts in other places around the world where there are extraordinary humanitarian needs. "Through our projects, we hope to bridge the gap that exists between humanitarian relief efforts and long-term development and reconstruction. Our programs will help to cultivate essential skills among those committed to leading post-crisis reconstruction efforts."  

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