Up to now, Iraq has had few if any emergency medical personnel capable of dealing with traumas. That all changed Sunday, when 40 newly trained emergency medical technicians graduated from a program sponsored by the American military and the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-installed government running the country.
In one group, students were practicing how to use neck braces and bandages on fictitious patients. In another, they learned mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Training medical staff to deal with traumas is new in Iraq, where hospitals, while clean and adequately staffed, have no emergency rooms. There are ambulances, but their drivers have no training in dealing with emergencies.
Major Jon Kerstetter, an Army National Guard doctor from Iowa, said students have learned new skills quickly, even though only 25 percent of them have previous medical training. "This is a brand new system in Iraq," he said. "What we are establishing is a brand new way of doing medicine."
Three emergency room doctors from Kosovo have been training the Iraqis for two weeks on basic trauma techniques, from lifting and moving injured patients to emergency childbirth.
Dr. Jeton Vorfi, one of the Kosovo doctors, said the United States military and a special Johns Hopkins University program taught him and 23 other doctors emergency medical techniques in the small Balkans province. He is now teaching others. "You can be able to see what kind of procedures they are able to do," he explained, "cardiopulmonary resuscitation, controlled breathing, wound dressing, vital signs measured and demobilization, which is very important for the first responder."
Dr. Kerstetter said the Kosovo doctors are good trainers because they have treated gunshot wounds and landmine injuries, a skill very useful in war-torn Iraq.
The health ministry, which is currently run by civilians and soldiers from the United States, plans to train 500 new paramedics in the next six months on a $500,000 budget. Much of the money will pay for textbooks and training equipment. Saudi Arabia recently donated 50 ambulances, which the new graduates will be able to staff.
Following their initial classes, the new paramedics can continue their training for another six months to learn advance techniques of emergency room treatment.