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

    Turkey, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    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.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.