Healing Iraq One Book at a Time: Medical Texts and Periodical Donations to Iraqi Healthcare Professionals

CPT Eileen Gillespie, RN


Topics in Advanced Practice Nursing eJournal. 2008;8(3) 

In This Article

The Babil Provincial Reconstruction Team: Healing Limbs and Spirits

One example of the power of collaboration and goodwill is evident in the work of the Babil Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). The PRT consists of a group of Civil Affairs soldiers and State Department civilians working side by side with Iraqi medical professionals to enhance the Babil area's rehabilitation medicine services.

CPT Ben Kenion of the 411th Civil Affairs Battalion, an activated US Army Reserve unit out of Danbury, Connecticut, offers details. Bravo Company, 411th Civil Affairs Battalion, is currently working for the US State Department and is attached to the Babil PRT and the Regional Embassy Office (REO). They are located in the center of Babil Province in the city of Al-Hillah. The team includes 12 soldiers with various professional, civilian, and military backgrounds and talents. Several of the officers in the unit have strong medical backgrounds and have taken the lead in working with the Government of Iraq and the local Provincial Government to assist in spearheading the improvement of rehabilitation services in the Province. CPT Kenion, who is an occupational therapist, along with LTC Therese Blake and CPT Rob Biron, both registered nurses, are working in conjunction with Dr. Osama Abdul Hassan, a Provincial Council member responsible for health issues, and Provincial Government entities that identified the Babil Rehabilitation Hospital as a priority focus for reconstruction efforts of the Babil PRT and the Babil Civil Affairs team.

The Al-Hillah Babil Regional Rehabilitation Center currently treats up to 250 patients per day. The majority of the patients seen have above-the-knee amputations, below-the-knee amputations, spinal cord injuries, and developmental disabilities. The facility's patients include men, women, and children. The Babil Regional Rehabilitation Center is, by Iraqi standards, one of the most advanced centers in all of Iraq. Its rehabilitation wing is moderately effective and provides limited services in basic rehabilitation and prosthetics. Although these services are offered, the numbers of people that can actually be treated is low because of the lack of trained physical and occupational therapists, materials, and equipment.

The Babil Civil Affairs Team is working on 3 medical initiatives to support the Rehab Hospital to address their need for functional and modern equipment and to enhance education and training for their therapists. These include a wheelchair donation program, a prosthetic satellite program, and a hospital equipment program.

There have been many wheelchair giveaways in Iraq since the beginning of the reconstruction effort; however, very little emphasis is made on education related to the use of these wheelchairs and all that can be accomplished by a recipient if the wheelchair is used properly. A wheelchair, much like a tool, can only be used to its fullest potential if the user is familiar with its capabilities and limitations. If the wheelchair provided is not appropriate for the conditions in which it is being used, or does not fit the user's specific needs, or is simply the wrong size, chances are it will just sit in a corner. The PRT as well as the Babil Rehabilitation Hospital staff recognize this and are investigating various means to educate the recipients of these new chairs. Videos or pictorial instructions on wheelchair use would be enormously helpful to the individual receiving these wheelchairs from charitable organizations.

The Civil Affairs unit will assist in preparing the facility to best use the donated items from the US organizations. Initially the hospital will be provided with financial assistance to complete renovations of a family education center and an activities of daily living (ADL) suite. The ADL suite will be completed in one of the existing rehabilitation gym areas that can be used by both men and women. The suite will mimic the common layout of a house in Iraq. This will be an area where a patient can practice some of the basic skills taught during their therapy and provide a place where patients can begin to build a level of proficiency and confidence in order to manage in their home environment.

The Babil PRT plans to install 5 wall-mounted video screens in the main therapy gyms. All monitors will be controlled via one central location for security of the video equipment. The videos will be shown while patients are practicing with their new chairs and can be used as a guide for the therapists.

If readers would consider donating videos or pictorial instructions on wheelchair use, that would be enormously helpful.

The PRT's second initiative is a project that will help facilitate a relationship with the Ministry Of Defense and the Ministry of Health. The project focus is to increase local access to high-quality prosthetics devices. This project will substantially improve the quality and quantity of prosthetic devices available to the thousands of disabled persons throughout Babil Province. The objective is to enable the Babil Rehabilitation Hospital to eventually serve not just the residents of Babil Province but the 5 other provinces that comprise the South Central Region of Iraq.

Residents of Babil Province waiting to be seen by the medical team.

LTC Theresa Blake, RN, Civil Affairs officer, with a female patient.

CPT Ben Kenion, OT, Civil Affairs officer, with an interpreter and an Iraqi patient.

The overall project will consist of 4 phases. The initial phase tasks include finalizing commitments from participating agencies. In phase 2, training will be provided to Babil Rehabilitation Hospital staff. In phase 3, production will begin on devices for Babil clients. A potential fourth phase would bring more modern manufacturing equipment to Babil Province to serve all 5 provinces in South Central Iraq. This phase will be at the sole discretion and responsibility of the Government of Iraq.

Ideal donations for this project are instructional tools for ADL, demonstration videos, and occupational therapy texts and periodicals.

The third initiative that the Babil PRT Civil Affairs team is working on is a project that involves providing medical equipment for 12 major medical hospitals in Babil Province as well as the Babil Rehabilitation Center. Three Hospitals identified in the province have no functional equipment at all and are not currently used because they are not equipped. The hospitals would benefit greatly from an influx of materials to stock their library.

During our time in Iraq we have seen an increase in the efforts of the Iraqi government to work towards improving the quality of the medical care that they provide to the citizens of Iraq. This task in and of itself is daunting, and therefore it is not surprising that the availability of physical therapy and occupational therapy services is scarce. At this time there are few schools in Iraq that even offer a comprehensive therapy program. The universities and technical institutes graduate only a small number of individuals each year. There is a significant need to increase the number of trained professionals able to assist Iraqis with reintegrating into society after a traumatic injury. The majority of the disabled in Iraq are victims of the ongoing violence within the country. The majority of those injured have the potential to lead productive and fulfilling lives despite their injuries.

However, the demand for rehabilitation services is far exceeded by the ability of the system to provide these services. It is for this reason that the Babil Civil Affairs Team and the Babil PRT are focusing their resources, time, and efforts on the Babil Rehabilitation Hospital. Although all donations are greatly appreciated and will be used, the donation of educational materials can have lasting effects on the region and work toward making life easier and more fulfilling for the many disabled.

To continue and expand these projects we are specifically looking for rehabilitation materials for use in both the rehabilitation hospital as well as the prosthetic center. Materials that would assist in complementing the project can include, but are not limited to, rehabilitation textbooks focusing on occupational therapy, physical therapy, and prosthetics. Additionally materials on video (CD format) will be used to compliment our wheelchair education program.

Other items that can be used at this facility are posters, splinting patterns, and ADL tools used in rehabilitation. Donors can contact the Babil PRT (see below) for details as well as to discuss any specific rehabilitation-related donations.

To continue and expand these projects we are especially in need of rehabilitation-specific materials, including text books, video material, splinting guides, etc.

Babil PRT
Essential Services Division
APO AE 09316
Commercial: (240) 553-0670, ext. 4170


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