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Troops connect children with medical program

By Sgt. Jerome Bishop , MND-B PAO

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A baby girl watches as Maj. Jason Davis, battalion surgeon for 1st Battalion, 21st Stryker Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, discusses treatment options for her heart defect with her parents at a public health clinic in the village of Nasr Wa Salam, west of Baghdad. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jerome Bishop)
A baby girl watches as Maj. Jason Davis, battalion surgeon for 1st Battalion, 21st Stryker Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, discusses treatment options for her heart defect with her parents at a public health clinic in the village of Nasr Wa Salam, west of Baghdad. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jerome Bishop)

Feb. 5, 2008 — NASR WA SALAM (Feb. 3, 2008) — As reconciliation efforts decrease sectarian violence here between Sunnis and Shi’ites, other challenges still exist, such as connecting the Ministry of Health with Iraqi children in need of specialized medical care.

Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 21st Stryker Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, Multi-National Division – Baghdad, along with their battalion surgeon, recently took one more step in connecting the Iraqi people with their new government at a public health clinic in the small village of Nasr Wa Salam, west of Baghdad, by introducing the people to one of the government’s new programs.

"The overall intent of reconciliation with physicians is to work with the Ministry of Health," said Maj. Jason Davis, a Killeen, Texas, native, who serves as the 1-21 Inf. Battalion’s surgeon. "One of the programs is the National Iraqi Assistance Center (NIAC).

"(The NIAC) is a non-profit organization run by the Iraqi government," Davis said. "It basically sponsors Iraqi children under the age of 16 who have severe medical problems and can’t get care here, so they can go out to other countries to get the care for free."

"We’re trying to bridge the gap between the MOH and the local people, so that’s what we did today," said 1st Lt. Shawn Skinner, a San Diego, Calif., native, who serves as the assistant civil military operations officer for 1-21.

The beginning phase of getting care under the NIAC program is determining if a child is eligible for assistance.

"This morning, I was evaluating the children to make sure they were appropriate for NIAC," Davis said, "and telling the families their role."

While at the clinic in Nasr Wa Salam, Davis took part in examining three children who could possibly benefit from the NIAC program.

The first child, a 5-year-old boy, suffered from a broken leg, which was a result of a rare bone defect that makes his bones much weaker than an average child and thus susceptible to easy fracturing. The other two children, one less than a year old and the other approximately 7 years old, both had congenital heart defects, Davis said.

"They both have heart problems, which would not allow them to live as long as they normally would," he added.

Due to the severity of their conditions, the children’s cases have been documented and prepared for the next step of the program’s process, which will take them to the NIAC office in Baghdad to arrange for travel, Davis said.

"Once the paper work comes through, we’re going to escort the kids to Baghdad for treatment," said Skinner.

While their diagnoses warrant acceptance into the program, conditions must be met. If the conditions are not met, they may not receive the treatment they need.

Part of the conditions for Iraqi families to partake in the program requires them to provide $1,000, or the equivalent in Iraqi Dinar for travel, which is later reimbursed. In addition, only female family members, such as the child’s mother or an adult sister, can escort the child to receive treatment due to international concerns with terrorism, said Davis.

"If the kids get their surgeries, I’ll feel like I contributed a small part to the program," said Davis, "I’ll feel good about that."The frustrating part is it’s only for kids under 16," Davis added. "You can’t help everyone."

The Soldiers who went to the clinic with Davis said they felt the mission of getting a means of treatment to a few children of the village was a success.

"It went well," said Skinner. "The (Iraqi) doctor couldn’t come because of traffic, but our doctor was still able to see the patients."

Although only up to three children might see the benefits of the NIAC program as a result of this visit by Davis, Skinner and the Soldiers of the 1-21 Inf., the small connection created between the Iraqi government and its people is just the beginning of a much larger network of medical assistance within Iraq.