Seeds of optimism in Iraq's mental health provision

October 13, 2008

University of Leicester psychiatrist Dr Mohammed Al-Uzri flies to Iraq on 15th October for the third National Conference on Mental Health which aims to help to develop mental health strategy for the next five years.

Dr Mohammed Al-Uzri, a Consultant Psychiatrist and Honorary Senior Lecturer with the University of Leicester Medical School, works principally through the Royal College of Psychiatrists, where he chairs the Iraq Subcommittee.

Dr Al-Uzri goes with the knowledge that the work he and colleagues from around the world have done is beginning to bear results.

Recent causes for optimism inside Iraq include the recent establishment of two child mental health departments, in Baghdad and Mosul, benefiting from the training provided to Iraqi mental health workers in the US and UK. This is in addition to a centre in Duhok established in collaboration with the Swedish University of Uppsala.

Psychiatrists in Iraq studied the health needs of Iraqi children in Mosul, suffering from posttraumatic stress, as well as children with attention deficit and hyperactivity in Nasiriyah and primary school children with behavioural problems in Baghdad.

There is a great need for child psychiatrists in Iraq, where almost half of the 26 million population is less than 18 years old. Numbers of psychiatrists have dwindled from 91 in 2006, but there are signs that the position is beginning to be reversed.

Although Iraq lacks mental health clinicians, community services and material resources, Dr Al-Uzri and his colleagues found that there was some innovative work going on there, including using television and radio to raise public awareness about mental health issues.

Mental Health professionals from the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP), the World Health Organisation, SAMHSA, NGO's and other institutions have been training Iraqi workers since 2003.

The effect of this is beginning to tell. In April a medical education programme on mental health, organised by the RCP, the International Medical Corps and the American Psychiatric Association, took place in Erbil, attracting more than 100 delegates, the largest meeting of its kind held in Iraq to date.

In 2005 the University of Leicester hosted a meeting of Iraqi academic psychiatrists to update them on current undergraduate medical education. Since then, support for education and training of mental health practitioners in Iraq has been increasing, Dr Al-Uzri says.

"It is all part of the support to the health services, particularly the mental health, in Iraq," he said. "Over the past four or five years we have supported undergraduate and postgraduate medical education in Iraq, as well as different mental health services.

"We are acting like a hub here in the UK, with many activities taking place here as well as in Iraq and other countries. Until now we have done a lot of training and work outside Iraq. Now there is a shift towards doing more work inside Iraq itself."

Dr Al-Uzri added: "The National Advisor on Mental Health (in Iraq) was visiting UK recently, as part of the UK Department of Health effort to train Iraqi health policy makers, and was able to update me on the latest developments. There is some good work taking place, though it is not very well publicised."
Notes to Editors: For more information on this please contact Dr Mohammed Al-Uzri, Consultant Psychiatrist, University of Leicester and Chair of the Iraqi Subcommittee of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, tel 0116 225 6476, email

University of Leicester

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