Jordan's Aid Group Offers Fresh Lease Of Life To Maimed Iraqis

by VR Sreeraman on  March 27, 2009 at 4:33 PM General Health News
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Iraqi teenage girl Baydaa Abdelnabbi lies propped up in a Jordanian hospital bed, her face covered in bandages, after undergoing 21 rounds of painful reconstructive surgery.
 Jordan's Aid Group Offers Fresh Lease Of Life To Maimed Iraqis
Jordan's Aid Group Offers Fresh Lease Of Life To Maimed Iraqis

Abdelnabbi was asleep with her family on the roof of their Baghdad house in the summer of 2006 when a mortar shell hit the building during fighting between US forces and the Shiite Mahdi Army militia.

Her brother, his wife and their three-year-old son were killed and Abdelnabbi's face was disfigured forever.

After several unsuccessful operations in Iraq to fix her jaw, nose and teeth, she was brought in 2007 to Amman's Red Crescent hospital, which is run by the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

"My life was destroyed," the 18-year-old school student told AFP between sobs. "I wish I had died."

Abdelnabbi said doctors have told her she will undergo more surgery to "make her face look acceptable.

"I used to consider myself pretty, but not any more... everything has changed now," she added. "What have I done to deserve this pain and suffering? I miss my family, but don't know how they will react when I return to Iraq."

MSF, which works in Amman with the help of Jordanian and Iraqi doctors, shut down its clinics in Iraq in 2004 as a deadly insurgency and sectarian warfare took hold in the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion.

A flood of more than two million people has surged to safety beyond war-ravaged Iraq's borders. The United Nations says around 1.5 million sought refuge in Syria and around half a million in Jordan.

Laila Daaya, 40, who shares a hospital room with Abdelnabbi, said she was severely injured in a rocket strike on her house in Baghdad that also killed her husband and two children in 2007.

"Doctors here have operated 13 times on my right leg and arm in the past six months," said Daaya, wearing a black veil and holding a picture of her family members.

"The Americans destroyed us just like they destroyed our country."

Outside Daaya's room, 38-year-old truck driver Abd Askar walked gingerly along a corridor, recovering from operations to treat his jaw and right leg.

"I was caught in crossfire between the Americans and gunmen three years ago in Mosul," he said. "I was transporting bricks and had to wait in the truck until the shooting stopped, when I was hit by the bullets, one in my jaw and two in my leg." The father of five said he was forced to sell his truck "and everything that I own" to pay for operations in Iraq to remove the remaining bullet in his jaw and help him walk again.

"I had two operations in Mosul, but they were useless," he said. "I finally came to Jordan for treatment, and it was worth it... it was successful thank God."

Since 2006, MSF (Doctors without Borders) has provided free treatment in Amman to around 650 maimed and severely wounded Iraqis.

"We receive 35 patients every month at the 40-bed hospital," MSF information officer Valerie Babize told AFP.

"After we treat the patients and make sure they are no longer in critical conditions, we discharge them to stay at a hotel for recovery before they come back again for more treatment."

But years of war and bloodshed have also left many traumatised Iraqis suffering from mental disorders.

"They have psychological problems... they also know that no matter what we do we will never be able to help them completely restore what they lost," said Stephanie Attallah, a Lebanese doctor who works with MSF.

A World Health Organisation survey this month found that many Iraqis suffer from anxiety disorders and depression, but only few sought professional help.

The study, researched in 2006-2007 at the height of the sectarian conflict that left tens of thousands dead, said resistance to the mental effects of violence was high among adults in Iraq.

There are currently 100 Iraqi patients on the Red Crescent hospital waiting list, according to Arielle Calmejane, who is in charge of the treatment programme.

"We are currently providing services to 116 people, most of them from Baghdad," she said.

"Many of them are suffering from severe injuries and they need several operations... it's exhausting for us and for them of course."

An Iraqi plastic surgeon said on condition of anonymity that it was "almost impossible" to conduct complicated operations in Iraq.

"It's different in Jordan... everything is available and at least we work in a safe environment."

Source: AFP

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