The World Health Organization (WHO) will again post international staff
members in Baghdad, five years after the organization's non-Iraqi employees
The new team of six to eight people will address mental health issues as
well as communicable disease monitoring and health infrastructure questions,
WHO country representative Dr. Naeema al-Gasseer said at a news conference.
WHO will expand its presence not only in Baghdad but also in Arbil, Basrah,
Hillah, and Kirkuk, she said.
The WHO and other United Nations representatives left Iraq in August 2003
after a terrorist bomb destroyed the United Nations' headquarters there and
killed 22 staff members, including the chief envoy, Sergio Vieira de Mello. In
the interim, WHO personnel based in Amman, Jordan, have undertaken missions to
Iraq to control disease outbreaks and advise on health system reform.
"WHO's return is a very significant step," said Winnie
Mitchell, M.P.A., an international officer at the Substance Abuse and Mental
Health Services Administration, in an interview. "It is another
indication of increasing stability in Iraq."
In recent years, Iraqi WHO personnel have focused on responding to
humanitarian needs and controlling threats to public health. The organization
will not provide services directly but will offer technical guidance and
policy assistance to the Iraqi Ministry of Health, as well as to other public
and private health entities in the country as it reforms its health
Immediately after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, WHO took part in the
process of changing Iraq's mental health system from one focused on large
psychiatric hospitals to a community-based approach, said Mitchell. WHO also
took part in mental health planning conferences for Iraq held in Amman and
Cairo, and has played a role in coping with the plight of the millions of
traumatized Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Syria.
The organization also helped train nurses in mental health care and sought
to increase the number of women nurses in what is a male-dominated profession
in Iraq. WHO helped introduce mental health concepts to nonpsychiatric
"WHO has been, and will continue to be, strongly involved in
developing and revising policies and standards of care for mental health,
integrating mental health services into an overall primary health care plan,
training Iraqi mental health staff of different levels, and advising on
substance abuse prevention, psychological counseling services, advocacy, and
other activities," WHO communications officer Paul Garwood told
Funding may be a problem, however, said WHO officials. International donors
promised $19 million for health-sector work in February, but none of the money
has been received yet, said Eric Laroche, assistant director general for the
WHO's Health Action in Crisis Cluster. An appeal in September 2007 for $85
million to help displaced Iraqis in neighboring countries has garnered only
$7.4 million so far.
More information on WHO's role in Iraq is posted at<www.emro.who.int/Iraq>.▪