Sharing knowhow and joining forces towards Health for All
Contribution to the Annual Report 2015 of the MMI Network

Iraq, Nassirya 2008-2016: The bridge of trust

Iraq, Nassirya 2008-2016: The bridge of trust

When Emergenza Sorrisi NGO (past Smile Train) performed its first mission in Iraq, in 2008, in the American Military Camp of Tallil on a Mobile Surgery Unit donated by the Italian Government, nobody could imagine that this would have been the first step of a long time fruitful cooperation between Italy and Iraq.

We have reached Tallil on U.S. Sherpa flights which were supposed to fly only night time together with armed soldiers from USA, Australia, Romania, young adults who sometimes have left their town for the first time catapulted in a world of sand storms and war.

This was our first time everybody was looking at us as we were crazy: a group of medical volunteers travelling with helmets and bulletproof vests.

Yet in that remote corner of Iraq unusual meeting point of sick children, hopeful parents, local doctors and nurses who had perhaps never met Italian civil doctors, happened the unexpected, the US militaries came to Mittica, leaving the gun to pick the children up and lull them trying to make them smile with dolls and little presents, local Doctors and Nurse who at the beginning were looking at us with suspicious claiming for a too long job day, began to work with enthusiasm tired less side by side with us, that piece of humanity in that place in that moment through knowledge and trust, thanks to the restored smiles of so many children, had rediscovered compassion and equality of human beings.

After the closure of the Military Camp Emergenza Sorrisi has performed many other missions in accordance with the Ministry of Health of Thi Qar, working in Nassyria city in Habobby Hospital hosted by the Government guest house, more than one thousand patients have been treated in these years   and, more important, as a consequence of constant training of surgeons anethesiologists/intensivists and nurses Habobby Hospital has become a reference point for the treatment of cleft lip and palate and burn sequels, not only for Thi Qar Region, but for the whole Iraq.

We have also started with Iraqi Ministry of Health a campaign of prevention through supplementation of folic acid to prevent defects of neural tube closure, especially for the women who already had a child with cleft lip and palate. The more difficult cases are taken to Italy and treated in Italian Hospitals accompanied by surgeon and nurse who are trained during their stay in Italy.

Now we fly with Touristic flights and arrive in Bassora Airport where we are met by our counterpart and taken to Nassirya, travelling across the desert. The number of patients who show up on screening day leave us always astonished, hundreds of children and young adults having on their body sequels of burns or face congenital malformation. We are just back from last February burn sequels surgery mission and another one is already scheduled in June 2016.

A local NGO Emergenza Sorrisi Iraq is currently under registration. It has been created, in accordance with Emergenza Sorrisi Italia NGO, by a local Scientific Committee which deals with health improvement in Thi Qar Region, including multidisciplinary treatment of patients, follow up of their condition and creation of safety protocols for the surgery treatment and post operative care.

The bridge of trust that has been built in these difficult years for that country has overcome obstacles and prejudices and managed to improve the health of so many young patients and their families suffering from cleft lip and palate who are now treated in accordance with the European protocols.

Contribution by Emergenza Sorrisi to the Annual Report 2015 of the MMI Network

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