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U.S. Engineers Build New Health Care Facilities in Iraq

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 4, 2008 – The U.S. military is building scores of new medical clinics across Iraq as part of an American-Iraqi partnership to improve health care services for the Iraqi people, U.S. and Iraqi officials said yesterday.

During a Baghdad news conference, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey J. Dorko, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Gulf Region Division, said myriad initiatives are under way to enhance and promote health care in Iraq.

The Gulf Region Division plays a role in renovating and constructing medical facilities across Iraq so its citizens can have safe, functional places to seek care, Dorko said.

“The U.S. government and the [Iraqi] Ministry of Health work in partnership to ensure that all health care facilities are built in areas where services are most needed and that the projects we are working fit the needs of the country,” Dorko explained.

Reconstitution of Iraq’s health care infrastructure “is a must for the country to continue to thrive,” he emphasized.

Over the last four years, Dorko said, his engineers have helped complete 195 of 230 planned health care projects in Iraq.

“By focusing our efforts, the Gulf Region Division, in partnership with Ministry of Health, has made great strides in providing Iraqis with the medical care they need and deserve,” the general said.

The $284 million Primary Health Care Center program is one of those projects, Dorko said. The project began two years ago, he said, and calls for the construction of 132 new health care clinics across Iraq. Fourteen older clinics have been renovated over the same period, he noted.

“As of today, we have completed 116 of the 132 new clinics and turned them over to the Ministry of Health,” Dorko reported. Twenty eight of the new clinics, he said, are located in Baghdad.

Two more clinics have been completed and are in the process of being turned over to Iraqi health officials, Dorko said. The remaining 14 clinics are expected to be completed by September, he said.

Each new clinic features dental and laboratory facilities, X-ray machines and a pharmacy, Dorko said, noting the clinics are designed to serve about 110 patients daily.

“However, we have found that some newly opened clinics are seeing 300 or more patients a day,” Dorko said. “Clearly, these facilities are filling a need in the neighborhoods that they are serving.”

The U.S.-Iraqi health care initiative also addresses the hospital sector, Dorko said, noting the program includes the construction of three new hospitals, one each in Basra, Babil and Maysan provinces. In addition, he said, 25 total-renovation projects are under way at 20 different hospitals that focus on children and maternity care.

The $164 million Basra Children’s Hospital now under construction is designed to care for children with cancer and to train doctors in their care, Dorko said. Both U.S. and United Nations funding are being used to construct the facility, he said. The Basra Children’s Hospital is about 88 percent complete, Dorko reported. It is slated for completion in December.

The three new hospitals will feature modern heating and air-conditioning systems, water purification systems, and state-of-the-art medical equipment, Dorko said. Funding has been appropriated for health care training for hospital employees, as well as facility maintenance, he added.

Robust efforts also are under way to entice Iraqi doctors and nurses who have left the country to return, Deputy Health Minister Dr. Essam Namiq told reporters at the news conference. So far, 165 formerly displaced Iraqi doctors have returned to their country, he said.

The Iraqi Health Ministry “has put together a program to facilitate the return of these doctors through giving them privileges and accommodations in addition to generous salaries that you cannot find anywhere in neighboring countries,” Namiq said.

He predicted that more than 90 percent of Iraq’s physicians will return to work in their country in 2008.

The return of Iraq’s doctors “is vital to Iraq’s success as a regional health-care leader,” said Army Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Joseph Caravalho Jr., surgeon general of Multinational Force Iraq.

It’s also important for young Iraqis to take up the profession of nursing, Caravalho said.

“To be successful, we agree with the Minister of Health that Iraq needs a good number of both doctors and nurses,” Caravalho said.

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