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Iraq Seeks to Protect Medical Workers
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Iraq Seeks to Protect Medical Workers

Iraq

Iraq Seeks to Protect Medical Workers

Iraq Seeks to Protect Medical Workers
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Iraqi doctors and other medical personnel have become the targets of an organized campaign of killings and kidnappings. The government has launched a television campaign, appealing to citizens to help protect doctors.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Iraq, doctors are the targets of an ongoing campaign of killing and kidnapping. To combat the problem, a special police service has been assigned to hospitals, and Iraq's health ministry is trying another approach: a television campaign to appeal to Iraqi citizens. NPR's Deborah Amos reports from Baghdad.

DEBORAH AMOS reporting:

It is a new feature on Iraqi television: public service announcements.

(Soundbite of public service announcement; music)

AMOS: An Iraqi mother discovers her son is sick. She scoops him up and rushes to the hospital, searching room after room, but as he collapses in her arms, she can find no doctor to treat him.

(Soundbite of public service announcement)

Unidentified Woman: (Screaming in foreign language)

AMOS: The dramatic message on the screen: Dear citizens, please do not kill doctors. You may need one someday.

It is the latest approach to end the deadly attacks on Iraq's medical community.

Dr. AKIF Al-ALOUSI (Iraq Medical Association): This is my laboratory.

AMOS: Dr. Akif Al-Alousi is the head of the Iraq Medical Association. He chairs the committee that launched the $70,000 TV ad campaigns. He has his own security guards in the courtyard of his office after a colleague warned him he was also a target.

Dr. AL-ALOUSI: I got a message, a tip from friends that my name was listed on one of the kidnapping lists.

AMOS: Earlier this year, a study by the ministry of health found as many as 300 Iraqi doctors had been killed in the past two years, says Dr. Alousi. Hundreds more have been kidnapped.

Dr. AL-ALOUSI: We have two problems: We have terror, and we have lawlessness. And both of them are a great pressure on the medical community and the doctors. We're suffering from both of them.

AMOS: Doctors are targets, he says, because kidnappers know they have money, and kidnapping is a lucrative business. Some doctors have been released after handing over thousands of dollars.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: There are other dangers. At the al-Numan hospital in Baghdad, surgeon Faisal Yasin Al-Ani has serious cuts and bruises on his hands and face. An Iraqi policeman is writing down the details.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: Dr. Al-Ani treated a 15-year-old boy for a ruptured appendix, but the boy died. When his family came to claim the body, the boy's uncle lunged for the doctor and badly beat him. It is not unusual, says Dr. Al-Ani, but the police can handle this. What worries him is gangs that target doctors, organized, he is sure, based on stories some of his colleagues have told him after they've been released.

Dr. FAISAL YASIN AL-ANI: They hear some of the talk of them, `Yes, sir. Yes, sir, we do it.' This is me--there is organization. They know all the doctors of Iraq.

(Soundbite of public service announcement; music)

AMOS: This ad reaches out to the kidnappers themselves. In this drama, when a doctor is kidnapped, hospital guards shoot one of the attackers. At their hideout, the wounded man needs medical attention. The kidnappers appeal to the doctor, who treats the gunshot wound. The scene ends with hugs all around. The doctor is released. It's not so far-fetched. In real life, a suicide bomber botched his attack in front of a hospital, badly burning himself. He ran into the hospital for help. The suspicious doctors treated him, then called the police.

For protection, the health ministry allows doctors to carry guns, urges them to hire security guards. According to the health ministry study, at least 3,000 doctors have fled the country, around 10 percent of the number of registered physicians in Iraq. About 30 more leave each month. The brain drain is straining medical care, says Dr. Alousi. Doctors will continue to leave Iraq unless the violence can be stopped.

Dr. AL-ALOUSI: Some of them were professional hits with silencer. It's the kidnappings which is affecting people.

AMOS: Which is the reason for the television campaign, since nothing else has worked, an appeal to Iraqis to protect the doctors, because they may need one someday. Deborah Amos, NPR News, Baghdad.

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