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Iraq: Doctors from Iran train Iraqi colleagues in physical rehabilitation

13-06-2013 Feature

Decades of conflict, and violence still raging in Iraq today have caused many Iraqis to suffer from physical disabilities. However, the country is struggling to provide physical rehabilitation training to doctors. To help address the needs, the ICRC, supported by Iranian doctors, organized a unique training course in April in Erbil.

"In Iraq we have thousands of amputees and disabled people in need of physical rehabilitation," says Dr Sameer Khalil al-Janabiis, the head of the prosthesis department at the technical medical institute in Baghdad. "Many specialists are required to provide the patients with appropriate rehabilitation, but our institute has limited capacities in graduating students," he explains.

In fact, the country lacks experienced teachers and trainers. "The doctors who are currently running the physical rehabilitation centres in Iraq are actually rheumatologists who have not followed full training in physical rehabilitation," says Prem Saggurthi, the ICRC physiotherapist delegate. "Iraq is in need of specialized doctors, and advanced training is essential for building their capacities and knowledge."

Since 1993, the ICRC has provided limb-fitting and physical rehabilitation services to disabled people in Iraq. Today it supports 10 physical rehabilitation centres across Iraq and runs its own centre in Erbil. From 2006, the ICRC has been increasing its efforts to help train doctors, physiotherapists and technicians.

Thus, in April this year, the ICRC organized the first training course in orthotic management of pathologies involving lower limbs. A total of 14 physical rehabilitation doctors in Iraq attended the course, which took place in the ICRC centre in Erbil. Working with the ICRC were the Iraqi Ministry of Health (MoH), the Iraqi Kurdistan Region MoH and the Iranian Red Crescent Society.

One doctor and one physiotherapist from the Iranian Red Crescent facilitated the course. "The Iranian Red Crescent has positively contributed to the improvement of physical rehabilitation services in their country and the ICRC in Iran has worked closely with them," says Saggurthi. "In order to strengthen the sharing of experience between the specialists in the two neighbouring countries, we decided to invite Iranian specialists to carry out the training."

Dr Zamani, the Iranian doctor, was on his first visit to Iraq and was very positive about his participation. "Sharing experiences is one of the key factors of successful work," he explained. "I was very happy to be able to address Iraqi doctors."

The experience was also positive for the Iraqi participants. For Dr Ola Kamal, head of the physical rehabilitation department of the technical medical institute in Baghdad, "the training was above my expectations, and the facilitators covered important issues. For some aspects of the work we had some gaps but we were able to learn new techniques, such as what criteria to apply when prescribing orthotic joints, especially for children. I will use what I have learnt here and organize seminars for the students of the institute in Baghdad."

Dr Khalid Mahmoud Maarik, another participant, insisted that such courses are important. "After they graduate from the university, Iraqi doctors do not have enough opportunities to get trained," he stated.

Dr. Zamani agreed. "The Iraqi doctors who attended the course all had a good level, but I could feel that there were some aspects of physical rehabilitation that could be strengthened," he underlined. "I could especially feel that a better coordination among all those involved in physical rehabilitation in Iraq was needed. We were able to cover some of these aspects in the course and now it is important to build on that first experience to develop such initiatives."

All the participants agreed on the need to organize further training, suggesting the inclusion as well of prosthetic and orthotic technicians and physiotherapists.

For the ICRC’s Saggurthi, the success of the course proved that the choice to involve Iranian trainers was the right one. "Iraqis have repeatedly asked us to provide more training opportunities, but we have faced difficulties in organizing appropriate training abroad," he explains. "The solution to involve Iranian colleagues was a success. They, along with the participants, showed strong willingness to improve future training. Such courses are the best platforms for exchanging information and upgrading knowledge."


Photos

Staff learn how to assess the requirements of a person who needs an orthotic device. 

Erbil, Iraq.
Staff learn how to assess the requirements of a person who needs an orthotic device.
© ICRC / G. H. Ali

Physical rehabilitation trainees examine a patient and look at his X-ray. 

Erbil, Iraq.
Physical rehabilitation trainees examine a patient and look at his X-ray.
© ICRC / G. H. Ali