By Army Sgt. Rodney Foliente
Special to American Forces Press Service
June 3, 2009 - Soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team visited and surveyed the progress of the children's hospital in Basra, Iraq, May 28. The 94-bed facility will be the first state-of-the-art pediatric specialty hospital in Iraq and is nearing completion, with outpatient services slated to start in September.
Inpatient oncology services are scheduled to begin in November, surgical services in January, and additional services, such as radiation oncology, will be available later.
"Having a specialized pediatric hospital will be beneficial for the children of Basra and the future generations to come," said Army Maj. (Dr.) Roger Brockbank, the brigade's surgeon.
"We participated in what I would consider a joint, multi-agency project, to provide a critical care facility for children in southern Iraq," said Army Maj. Peter Hesford, who manages water, electricity and infrastructure for the Commander's Emergency Relief Program. "Our contribution was the provision of treated water for the hospital. Our role was small, but our contribution was critical."
Spearheaded by the United States, the project also is financed by the Iraqi government, the United Nations and Project Hope, a nonprofit group dedicated to providing health care for people worldwide, said Gerald Ramos, the hospital's project manager for the Gulf Region South District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"In 2003, Project Hope evaluated the health care system in Iraq and found it to be broken," Ramos said. He explained that Iraq's infant mortality rate is one of the highest worldwide, and Project Hope determined that a significant contributing factor was pediatric cancer.
"The cancer rate is 10 times higher in Iraq than in developed countries," Ramos said. "In the south, it is twice the national average. It was decided to build the hospital in Basra because it is a major population center."
The specialized focus of the hospital is on cancer treatment, Ramos said. The hospital also will function as a training center, capable of improving and expanding the training and proficiency of health care professionals throughout Iraq.
"It's encouraging and exciting to see a project of this regional importance nearing completion," Hesford said. "It is important for the critical need the hospital will fill in the area of pediatric care [and] for the employment and economic stimulus it will provide to Basra."
Ramos said the hospital will stimulate the local economy and offer jobs for local residents, both at the hospital and in industries servicing the hospital.
In the construction alone, he estimated, about half of the $160 million for the building project will go to local laborers and contractors.
(Army Sgt. Rodney Foliente serves with the 4th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team.)