News / Health

    Bringing Healing to Traumatized Victims of Mass Violence

    Bringing Healing to Traumatized Victims of Mass Violencei
    X
    May 06, 2014 2:27 AM
    An estimated one billion people around the world have experienced mass violence, torture or terrorism and are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. Some are unable to work or care for themselves or their families. Now, a small American foundation, begun by the family of a victim of the September 11 attacks, is establishing trauma clinics in poor countries scarred by violence. VOA News's Carolyn Weaver reports.
    Carolyn Weaver
    An estimated one billion people around the world have experienced mass violence, torture or terrorism and are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.  Some are unable to work or care for themselves or their families.  Now, a small American foundation, begun by the family of a victim of the September 11 attacks, is establishing trauma clinics in poor countries scarred by violence.
     
    New Yorker Liz Alderman and James Okello, a child psychiatrist visiting from Uganda, would never have met if not for tragedy.  Her youngest son, Peter, was killed in the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center.  
     
    "He did not work in the building, he was there for a meeting, and he was 25 years old when he died.  My husband and I needed to create a memorial for him, to leave a mark that he had existed and that the world would be a better place because Peter had lived," Alderman said.
     
    Watching a TV show one night, she and Peter's father, Stephen Alderman, stumbled on the idea of bringing mental health care to people in poorer countries traumatized by mass violence and terrorism.  The first Peter C. Alderman Trauma Treatment Clinic opened in Cambodia in 2005.
     
    "In the first year, we had 4,000 patient visits, and and a 14-month waiting list, so we opened a second clinic 18 miles down the road the next year," she said.
     
    "People often ask us why are you seeing patients in Cambodia?  I mean Pol Pot was 30, 35 years ago," she said.  "Traumatic depression doesn't go away.  You see this in children of Holocaust survivors.  Traumatic depression can go from one generation to the next, and unless you treat it, it's still there."
     
    "We are dealing with people who have been so traumatized by what they have experienced that they can no longer function," Alderman said.  "If people don't care whether they live or die, they're not going to be able to follow the very difficult HIV/AIDS regimen, they're not going to walk the extra mile for potable water.  A lot of our patients can't even get out of their beds."
     
    In Uganda, where there are four clinics, patients include many former child soldiers and others abducted into war over two decades by the Lord's Resistance Army.  James Okello directs the clinic in Gulu, in the North, which helps patients through counseling, group therapy and psychopharmacology.
     
    "If there's no form of intervention, with almost every trauma there's going to be a problem. We sometimes talk about delayed post-traumatic stress disorder. That's the concept that, when the guns stop firing, the mind starts firing. So, a lot of things happen when the emergency situation is long gone," he said.
     
    Okello is one of only four child and adolescent psychiatrists in Uganda, he said. 
    Most of the country's 32 other psychiatrists work in the capital city region. 

    "Fortunately, the mental health problems we see in children and adolescents tend to be self-limiting, if you can provide them with a child-friendly space, psycho-social program interventions, and re-connect them with their families.  A lot of these children are very resilient, and by the nature of the African setting, people are more communal, so there is some semblance of normality coming back, in terms of family structures," he said.
     
    Even so, he said, the incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder is very high in northern Uganda, and about five percent of those affected will not recover without help, which often includes antidepressants or antianxiety medications.  Psychological education is also important, he said.
     
    "We try to explain to people that their experience of trauma is the abnormal thing, and the reactions, the symptoms, are a normal physiological reaction," he said.  "I think there's where we have a big fight with the Western world about pathologizing normative responses.  One of the key factors is when patients realize the symptoms they are experiencing are actually normal.  That is a first step to recovery," he said.
     
    The clinics are set up in partnership with each country, and staffed solely by indigenous healthcare givers who understand traumatic mental illness in medical terms and according to local culture.
     
    "We use cultural idioms to express the same Western symptoms," Okello said.  "You start from their perspective, their own understanding of what is happening to them.  [A patient might] say, 'I am bewitched,'  or 'I am experiencing spirit possession,' or 'I didn't do any rituals.'  And then, if you see there's a big fit with the Western model, you explain it to them.  So, I think anybody who is not culturally literate, who does not understand the culture, you're likely to miss a lot or even over-diagnose, depending on which tool you're using."
     
    The Peter C. Alderman Foundation also has a clinic in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, and has worked in Rwanda, Liberia and Haiti.  It holds an annual training and research conference in Africa in July, and funds a new medical publication, the African Journal of Traumatic Stress.  Alderman says more than 200 indigenous health care professionals have been trained, who have gone on to teach many others, and care has reached more than 75,000 patients.

    You May Like

    Multimedia US Observes Memorial Day With Wreath-laying, National Concert

    Obama lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery

    The Strife of the Party: Will Trump Permanently Alter Republicans?

    While billionaire mogul's no-holds-barred style, high-energy delivery are what rocketed him to nomination, they also have created rift between party elites and his supporters

    China's Education Reforms Spark Protest

    Beijing is putting a quota system in place to increase the number of students from poor regions attending universities

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Patrick from: Kampala
    May 13, 2014 12:49 AM
    Great job!

    by: Pilivi85 from: Spain
    May 07, 2014 2:09 AM
    I wish the world had more people like them. There's a disturbing lack of humanity , and that's really sad. Congrats for this couple, i'm sure they're doing a great job.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora