Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Iraqi, American Psychiatrists Exchange Ideas

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Iraqi, American Psychiatrists Exchange Ideas

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- Like the United States and other countries around the world, Iraq suffers from a shortage of psychiatrists. But in Iraq, the situation is particularly dire: The country has only about 100 psychiatrists to serve a population of 30 million people, experts say.

That sobering statistic compelled psychiatrists such as Dr. Rebwar Ghareeb Hama of the General Hospital of Sulaimani, Kurdistan, to participate in the Iraq-SAMHSA Partnership on Behavioral Health program. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Iraqi government were part of the initiative developed in 2004 to help Iraq reestablish its behavioral health service system.

"We are only a few psychiatrists serving about 2 million people inside Sulaimani," said Dr. Hama, who was part of the team focused on integrating trauma services into primary health care centers. "We have no clinical psychologists, no clinical social workers, so with these short limits, we want to teach or to train nonexperts inside the health centers like general practitioners [and] nurses to identify those people inside the community ... and when they find difficulties in managing them, refer them to our centers inside the psychiatry department in the general hospital."

After 6 weeks of observing how various mental health care services are provided in the United States, Dr. Hama and 23 other psychiatrists from Iraq were headed home, armed with new strategies and ready to implement local programs they have designed with the help of their American colleagues.

This group is the second set of psychiatrists and other health professionals from Iraq selected to participate in the program. Their time of intensive training and conferences culminated in a closing session Oct. 21 at the Iraqi Cultural Center, where they presented action plans for their war-weary population, ranging from the implementation of an Iraqi Mental Health Act, to ramping up efforts to improve substance-abuse treatment programs for adults and posttraumatic stress disorder treatment (PTSD) programs for children. The first group participated in the program in 2008.

In the plan developed by Dr. Hama's team (which included three other doctors from Kurdistan), they want to create small, multidisciplinary teams of three people--a general practitioner, a nurse, and "medical staff"--and teach them how to identify patients with PTSD. These teams will be trained in 12 health centers in Sulaimani, he said.

Dr. Hama added that his team wants to train both religious leaders because of their influence in the community and teachers, who will often be the first to notice children suffering from PTSD or other problems. …

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