War on Terrorism

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Soldiers Help Battle Infant Mortality, Birth Defects in Iraq

By Army Staff Sgt. Rodney Foliente
Special to American Forces Press Service

June 18, 2009 - The doctors and medical staff of the 4th Infantry Division's 2nd "Warhorse" Brigade Combat Team conducted neonatal resuscitation training for local doctors here June 10 and 11. The soldiers offered the training and introduced new procedures and equipment to help save infants' lives and reduce the risk of babies suffering from cerebral palsy and mental retardation.

"Iraq has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world," said Army Maj. (Dr.) Roger Brockbank, the brigade surgeon.

Recent studies show that many instances of cerebral palsy and mental retardation may have been avoided with proper resuscitation training, Brockbank said.

"The first few minutes of an infant's life are critical as the infant makes the transition from the womb to breathing in the outside world," Brockbank explained. "A lot of times, simple interventions and techniques can help the infants in need of assistance to make that transition and lead healthy lives."

In addition to the training, the brigade has provided training aids and equipment donated from American nongovernmental organizations, such as infant-sized mannequins with simulated lungs and tools to perform a variety of resuscitation measures. The mouths, throats and lungs of the mannequins are realistically formed, allowing staff members to train on emergency procedures such as inserting breathing tubes.

The training program was coordinated with the provincial government and the directors of the Basra Women's and Children's Hospital, said Army Capt. Will Smith, brigade medical operations officer.

"It was exciting to see the local doctors take the lead as they establish an ongoing neonatal resuscitation training program which will result in improving their provincial healthcare capacity," Smith said. "I was inspired by their enthusiasm, and I feel confident in the ability of the Iraqi doctors and the Ministry of Health to care for their people."

The Iraqi doctors attending the training will be able to pass the knowledge on to their colleagues, Brockbank said. "We wanted to provide a training program for physicians in Basra so they can, in turn, train other physicians, nurses and midwives in neonatal resuscitation techniques," he said. "It's been very rewarding, being able to provide a program that can continue when we move on. It will be very beneficial to the people, especially the infants born in Basra."

The train-the-trainer program can continue to progress and escalate until the Basra Women's and Children's Hospital becomes a center of training for medical staff from other hospitals as well, Brockbank added. In Diwaniya, where the Warhorse Brigade had its headquarters during the first half of its deployment, the neonatal resuscitation training program has grown and continues with success, he said.

The initial course will now help the doctors and residents train the rest of the pediatric staff at the hospital before expanding it further, said Dr. Ghufran, a pediatrician. She said she is optimistic that the training will lead to a healthier start for more children.

"This training will benefit our whole pediatric staff, so they know better how to assist the doctors and care for the babies in [case of] complications. The babies don't depend only on the doctors for survival; they depend on the whole [medical] staff."

Dr. Ayssar, a pediatric resident in Basra, agreed. "I became a doctor to help people and save lives. In Iraq, we have many complications in post-deliveries. Many babies end up (having) cerebral palsy, are paralyzed or die because of birth asphyxia," the doctor said. "This training will help us prevent these things from happening; to help [ensure] healthier futures [and] save the lives of infants."

(Army Staff Sgt. Rodney Foliente serves with the 4th Infantry Division's 2nd Beigade Combat Team.)

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