By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
May 23, 2007 – More than 80 much-needed medical clinics are opening across Iraq in the next several months, part of the almost $376 million the U.S. has spent to jump-start health care initiatives there. Eight clinics are now open to the public and are seeing more than 250 patients a day, Army Brig. Gen. Michael J. Walsh, commanding general of the Gulf Region Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said during a briefing today for the Pentagon press corps.
When finished, 138 primary health care clinics will be scattered across the country: 46 in the north, 34 in the central region, and 58 in the south. Ten other clinics are now open, but they are recruiting and training staff. Walsh said 80 of the clinics are 90 percent complete.
Treatment at the clinics is free to Iraqis.
In addition, Walsh said, the engineers are working on renovation projects at 20 hospitals in Iraq. A $14 million Najaf teaching hospital was finished by an Iraqi-owned business. The hospital employs more than 1,200 people -- 200 are doctors -- and trains more than 250 students.
The Basra Children's Hospital will be the first new hospital built in the country since the 1980s, Walsh said. The project is scheduled to be finished in 2008.
Dr. Quraish Alkasir, president of the Society of Iraqi Surgeons and advisor to the deputy prime minister of Iraq, told reporters there is a shortage of hospitals in the country.
"We are having a shortage. We are not fully equipped. We are in a war against terrorism, so we expect to have some shortage, but we are doing the minimum work ... for the people," he said.
But, the doctor said, the country is meeting basic health care needs.
"We haven't left a patient without surgery because of anesthesia. We haven't left a patient having an open wound without suturing," he said.
He acknowledged a lack of top-notch equipment, but said doctors in Iraq do the work with the equipment they have.
Since the start of the Baghdad security plan, Alkasir said, Iraqis feel safer going to the hospitals for care.
The necessary equipment and trained staff will be available when the hospitals and clinics are finished, Walsh said. The facilities then will be turned over to the Ministry of Health, which will operate, staff and supply them.
"The reconstruction efforts are a vital component to Iraq's progress. Ultimately, however, it's up to the Iraqi people to rebuild and secure their country," Walsh said.
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