Medical supplies make a world of difference

6 Aug 2003 | Spc. Melissa Walther

In an effort to build goodwill with local residents, members of the 304th Civil Affairs Brigade from Philadelphia, Pa. and the 1st Marine Division are working to rehabilitate medical clinics in the area.

So far, approximately $200,000 worth of medical supplies and equipment has been donated to four clinics in the northern Babil Province.

"We thought it would be a good idea for the coalition forces to present a new face in the area," said Navy Cmdr. Miles Merwin, 1st Marine Division forward surgeon.  "This is the area where all of the raids are taking place and the people were starting to see us in that light.  This program shows them another side of us."

Supplies and equipment such as examination tables, wheelchairs, electrocardiogram machines and laboratory equipment were some of the things donated by a non-governmental organization based out of Kuwait.  Other supplies given to the clinics include disposable supplies such as syringes and medicines, which came from the medical warehouse in Baghdad.

"If there's anything Iraq has too much of it's doctors and dentists," Merwin said.  "The problem is they have no medical supplies that they need.  We're trying to help with this problem."

According to Merwin, many of the buildings are old and are outfitted with outdated equipment, much of which does not work.

"It's very gratifying to have an influence like this, but sometimes it seems like such a small drop in a very large bucket," Merwin said.

The coalition has delivered medical supplies to four clinics have so far received supplies in the province. There are 12 clinics and primary care centers in the area. 

"It's a good program because the clinics and hospitals are in very populated areas and many of them were looted," said Lt. Col. George Hernandez, a health officer with 304th.  "It also helps the community accept us in the area.  This is the place where there are raids every night.  In the day, we're showing them that we care.  We're helping to pacify the area, just in a different way."

According to Hernandez, New York resident, Iraqi citizens are more likely to be accepting where the coalition forces have made improvements,

"There was a lot of disbelief when we went there," Hernandez said.  "They didn't believe we were actually going to help.  When we produced, they were astonished."

According to Merwin, when the people actually saw the supplies they were extremely grateful.

"The common statement among the locals is that many people have come to look at their hospitals or clinics and say they want to help," Merwin said. "Then the people never hear from them again.  We're the first to actually do it."

Currently, the servicemembers are developing a plan to provide transportation from outlying clinics to the larger clinics.

"Every hospital and clinic has a long list of needs," said Merwin.

They are planning also an Adopt-A-Hospital program in three different cities in southern Iraq.  These hospitals would be "adopted" by a foreign country that would send doctors and equipment to the hospital in need and help to modernize it.

Those cities haven't been identified yet.

"We just want to help the people," said Merwin.