Iraqis Making 'Tremendous Progress' in Delivering Essential Services
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 27, 2004 Iraqis were kept in "intellectual isolation" for more than 30 years, but now they're making up for lost time, according to one man who worked with Iraqis to rebuild their health-care system.
Bob Goodwin spent 11 months in Iraq as chief of staff of a group working with the country's Ministry of Health. Up until U.S. and coalition forces deposed Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraqi health-care workers were "stuck back in 1978 with their procedures," he said.
The most recent medical textbooks Iraqis had were from 1993, and those were merely photocopies smuggled into Iraq from Jordan. And it was illegal for ordinary Iraqis to access the Internet or satellite television.
This was particularly stifling for medical professionals, who work in a field with constant advancements. "You've seen how much (medical care has) changed in the last 10 years," Goodwin said.
Still, he said, the Iraqis he worked with in the Ministry of Health are "some of the smartest, most-capable people that I have ever met in my entire life."
He said the Iraqis are making huge strides in bringing medical care in their country up to a higher standard despite the security challenges facing Iraq. "We are making tremendous progress in the ability to deliver essential services: health, education, water," Goodwin said.
As an example, he cited how the Iraqis handled a measles outbreak there this spring. Within "a matter of weeks," they had vaccinated 90 percent of their target population, all children up to 12 years of age in the region with the outbreak. "We can't do that in our own country, let alone a country that's in a post-conflict situation," he said.
A challenge facing international officials helping the Iraqis was to get them out of "an emergency-response mode," Goodwin said. Iraqis tended to look at crises facing them right now, he explained. U.S. and other international experts have been working to introduce them to long-term planning.
At first, the concept wasn't sinking in, so officials set a date to begin planning for 2005 and beyond. This seemed to help the Iraqis understand what to work on in terms of planning, Goodwin said. "A lot of things started clicking with them about where they needed to go," he said.
"We started that process," he added, "but (the Iraqis) really picked up on it and took it over quickly."
Goodwin said he is convinced the Iraqis understand the challenges to their health-care system and believes they are in the best position to fix their own problems. They've just never been given the opportunity, he said.
"They know their problems, but they've never had access to resources," he said. "They've never had the ability to make decisions. Those out in the governates maybe got to make one decision a year, now they're making hundreds of decisions."
He said he sees experts from the United States and other countries acting in an advisory role in the Iraqi medical system. "It's going to take time for us to encourage them," Goodwin said, adding that U.S. military forces working with Iraqis are "really cementing the future for that country."