Training Begins for Health Workers & Birthing Attendants in Iraq
Khawla Brahy Hassan (right) is one of IRC's Community Health Workers in the southern Iraqi city of Karbala. She and her colleagues have launched a door-to-door campaign to teach people about safe health practices in their communities. One in five houses is receiving training and these households will in turn spread the information further. (Photo: Peter Biro/IRC)
"Are you washing your vegetables?" asks IRC Community Health Worker Khawla Brahy Hassan, during a visit to a home in Karbala's impoverished Baaht neighborhood. The question starts a lengthy discussion about nutrition and personal hygiene. A shabby looking dog suddenly appears, prompting another excited conversation about keeping animals in the house.
Hassan was one of a group of 20 Iraqis who took part in a recent IRC training workshop for community health workers in the Shiite holy city of Karbala. After the three-day session, the group was broken down into six teams that are now making daily visits to families to survey needs and discuss good health practices.
On another day, Nawal Abdul Reda, who supervises the IRC health teams, knocks on the door of a small brick house picked at random. The front gate is pierced by shrapnel, a grim reminder of the fighting that took place here during the war. Troops loyal to Saddam Hussein hid in the narrow lanes of this residential area, firing at Coalition helicopters. When U.S. forces struck back, houses were partly destroyed and a 13-year-old girl was killed, according to residents.
Reda and her team are shown into a room with a couple of woven images of Shiite martyrs Ali and Hussein as only decorations. The room, hot and unlit, is soon filled with people. Six families with more than 20 children live here.
IRC's health manager Dr. Muntadhar Al-Muhanna spots several cases of malnourishment, anemia and whooping-cough among the children clinging to their mother's black cloaks. One of the women suffered a miscarriage the previous day and lost a lot of blood as a result. She is given a referral to the nearby IRC-supported Al Oroba clinic.
"It's very important that the villagers are informed about existing health services," says Al-Muhanna. "This kind of community health outreach saves lives."
The IRC is also sponsoring training programs for traditional birth attendants. Eight women began such training at the start of July and are expected to begin work in underserved communities in Karbala shortly.
"We will train them to improve their methods, to recognize complications, to report their findings to the clinics and make sure they refer mothers and children to the clinics for regular check-ups," says IRC health manager Dr. Saeb Muhammad Ali.
Meanwhile, minor repairs on four IRC-supported clinics in Karbala are almost finished and medical equipment looted in the aftermath of the war, such as otoscopes and examination lamps, have been replaced.
"Once we have repaired the clinics and all the community health workers and traditional birth attendants are operational here in Karbala, we will do the same in the city of Najaf," Saeb Muhammad Ali says.
The IRC has launched several additional primary health care projects in around towns in southern and northern Iraq, including the provision of basic drugs, minor clinic repairs, and the setting-up of outreach teams.