Iraqi Military Medical System Makes Progress
By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 8, 2008 As security in Iraq improves, more doctors are returning to clinical services, but more are needed in the Iraqi security forces, an official involved with this process in Iraq said.
“[In Iraq they still] need quite a few doctors just to get to the level where they need to be to provide the primary health care for their force,” Navy Cmdr. Joseph Coleman, deputy director of health affairs for Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq, said in a teleconference with journalists and bloggers June 5.
“They’re drastically low on doctors in the military. So they’re going to need to continue to strongly recruit them and not just rely on the civilian facilities, because everybody’s strapped,” he said.
Coleman added that incentives are being offered to entice military medical professionals to return to Iraq.
“They’ve kept in place the incentive pay to become a military physician, so that keeps people … that are returning to Iraq or [who] have been here, [but] haven’t had a job. That enables them … and draws them in more,” Coleman said. “It’s more of a recruiting tool.”
Coleman added that the Iraqi Ministry of Defense surgeon general’s office is laying the groundwork to improve medical facilities infrastructure for the Iraqi military.
“We can do that in a stepped fashion and get things going for them at that level, moving up from clinics … to hospitals so that they have a little bit of a reach-back capability for the [military] that are [at] the training bases … and support commands across the country,” he said.
Coleman explained that the Iraqi Health Ministry has initiated cooperative agreements with several hospitals across the country in areas where there is a high concentration of forces, training bases and operations.
“They end up putting in doctors into facilities and using a wing of a hospital,” he said. “That’s working pretty well, and that’s a step as they continue to grow their own forces.”
Iraqi citizens are more willing and able to benefit from the community support and healthcare offered at the hospitals, but doctors are still needed throughout the country, Coleman said. He added that the need for healthcare remains high because Iraq has lacked basic services for so long. But as the security situation improves, the government has become more capable, which has allowed for increases in basic salaries for medical professionals.
In addition to rising pay levels, educational opportunities are being offered in conjunction with the Iraqi Health and Defense ministries and coalition forces. “We help arrange to have local training, education and support done … in the neighboring countries and, in some cases, back in the United States,” Coleman said.
He added that the interest in the Iraqi medical field is growing in large part due to word of mouth by Iraqis who have attended the training, which increases interest and entices others who may only need refresher-type training to get back into service.
“When we do send someone out and bring them back and get them operating and they’re talking to their friends, that draws more people in,” Coleman said. “There are a lot of physicians out here that need to get back.”
(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg works in the New Media directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)