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University hosts Iraqi health delegation

Northeastern University hosted a delegation of Iraqi mental health professionals to share with them the innovative trauma and substance abuse treatment programs developed by the Institute on Urban Health Research (IUHR)—knowledge they can integrate into medical programs in their homeland.

During the two-day visit on Sept. 22-23, the visitors learned about the University’s integrated model for the treatment of trauma and its mental health consequences, developed by IUHR Director Hortensia Amaro. Working in collaboration with Rita Nieves at the Boston Public Health Commission, Amaro has devised nationally recognized programs for treating trauma—often stemming from childhood abuse or adult physical or sexual abuse. The programs serve all populations, though the majority are African-American or Latina women, and many are low-income, single mothers.

The Iraqi teams visited IUHR for training sessions, toured outpatient facilities in Boston that are implementing these programs and met some of the clients.

“We are honored to have been selected by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to be one of the handful of programs for the treatment of mental health and drug addiction for the delegation’s visit,” Amaro said. “While we recognized that our social and political contexts are quite different, we found many commonalities, including the shared understanding of the important role of culture in service delivery and the appreciation of human resilience. It has been a mutually beneficial learning experience that we hope opens up future opportunities for research collaboration and student learning opportunities.”

The Iraqis hope to tailor their own programs for treating patients around Northeastern’s structured, evidence-based approach. They said that a great majority of the Iraqi people suffers from various forms of trauma—including post-traumatic stress disorder—due to decades of violence and political instability in their war-torn country.

Dr. Rebwar Ghareeb Hama, a psychiatrist in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, hopes to integrate new trauma services into primary health care at his hospital. Among the particular areas of interest, said Hama, were the therapeutic sessions, child services, interaction within multidisciplinary teams, and patient confidentiality policies.

Stephen Zoloth, dean of the Bouvé College of Health Sciences, called the visit “an incredible opportunity to share what Hortensia and her institute has developed in the areas of mental health and substance abuse treatment. We can learn from (the Iraqis) as well about how they approach mental health issues.

“This emphasizes Northeastern’s global perspective, as we look across different cultures to discover the best solutions to common problems.”

Under President Joseph E. Aoun’s leadership, Northeastern has expanded its global presence through international partnerships, rising experiential learning opportunities, and research that focuses on solving global challenges in the areas of health, security and sustainability.

The Iraqi health officials’ visit to Northeastern—sponsored by SAMHSA, a public health agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Iraq’s Ministry of Health—is part of a six-week tour of American institutions and health facilities. In total, six teams of Iraqi health professionals traveled overseas for the learning experience—with both of the trauma-focused teams visiting Northeastern.

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