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Associated Press
Americans Donate Medical Books to Iraq
Alicia Chang, Associated Press Writer
January 3, 2005
Dr. Alex Garza, an Army Reserve captain and emergency room doctor from Missouri, saw firsthand how hopelessly outdated Iraq's medical libraries were.

Back in the United States, Dr. David Gifford, a retired Army colonel, learned of the problem from a physician friend stationed in Iraq.

Unbeknownst to each other, the two men thought of a plan: to modernize Iraq's health care system by getting up-to-date medical textbooks and journals into the hands of Iraqi professors and students.

Garza and Gifford eventually joined forces, and soon medical schools, publishing houses and people around the globe donated boxloads of medical literature to the war-scarred country. More than 100,000 items have been collected so far.

"This is really a big change," said Dr. Thamer Al Hilfi, a tuberculosis specialist and professor at the University of Tikrit College of Medicine. "Everyone here - doctors and students - feel like they are born again."

Before the two Americans stepped in, most of Iraq's medical books were at least two decades old and several editions out of date. The more recent ones were photocopies of medical textbooks housed at the Ministry of Health in Baghdad. Topics such as AIDS and the latest surgical techniques were wholly absent from the editions Iraqis medical students were using, Garza said.

Garza realized this shortly after the fall of Baghdad in March 2003, when he was dispatched to Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein. Head of the public health team for the 418th Civil Affairs Battalion, Garza was in charge of rebuilding medical schools, hospitals and clinics in the region.

A tour of the University of Tikrit College of Medicine campus revealed the library was woefully behind the times. The dean explained that it was too costly to buy new reading material.

"It was shocking to me as a medical professional how anyone can practice modern medicine with such limited resources," Garza recalled.

Garza's idea of a book drive did not become reality until he learned that Gifford, at the Darnell Army Community Hospital at Fort Hood, Texas, had been thinking about the same thing. They started collaborating on the project.

Gifford made cold calls to dozens of publishing companies, at first to no avail. Then he got in touch with Susan Yox, a nurse from Orchard Park, N.Y., who previously rallied worldwide support to deliver medical supplies to Afghanistan. Yox, who also publishes a journal for nurses, ran an article by Garza about the Iraq effort, and the project took off.

Publishers that had planned to destroy their old editions donated them instead. Medical schools started campus book drives, collecting books that students would have otherwise resold. Individuals from around the world sent material.

WebMd Corp. donated 3,000 copies of its 2003 surgery and internal medicine textbooks, valued at about $500,000. Among the largest medical school donors were the University of Tennessee and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, which sent more than 2,000 textbooks and journals each.

To minimize shipping costs, Gifford arranged for some packages to be delivered to stateside military posts, where they were transferred to military cargo planes headed for Baghdad.

Donations ranged from basic science textbooks to specialized medical texts in surgery and pediatrics. Medical journals and reference materials such as medical dictionaries and manuals were also sent.

Language was not a barrier in Iraq since lessons in medical schools are taught in English, a legacy of the country's occupation by the British during World War I.

The first wave of books went to the University of Tikrit College of Medicine earlier this year. Garza earmarked other donations for the Ad Dialya College of Medicine, Tikrit Teaching Hospital, Samarra General Hospital and dozens of clinics.

The project has expanded to include nursing, dental and veterinary books.

"It just boggles the mind. It's a wonderful thing to observe," Gifford said.



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