Why Ahmad, Mustafa, and others need your support

October 20, 2009

From time to time, one particular presentation arouses huge interest at a congress.

From time to time, one particular presentation arouses huge interest at a congress. It may be a keynote lecture or a talk about some groundbreaking research, but often it is original, human interest topics that seem to attract the most attention.

At the 2007 RSNA meeting, several delegates I spoke with were fascinated by a lecture from a bright young radiologist, Dr. Ahmad Al- Shamssie from Baghdad. They were deeply moved by his eloquent descriptions of everyday working life in Iraq, and they felt his reflections provided great personal insight on caring for the innocent victims of violence and terrorism whom we have all seen so often on our TV screens.

I missed his presentation but tried, unsuccessfully, to interview Ahmad during the conference. Over the coming months, we swapped e-mails occasionally, but the situation in Iraq had deteriorated badly and he could not spare the time to talk with me. He also feared for his own safety and had to keep a low profile. Assassination attempts involving scientists and academics are frighteningly common in Iraq, and he had received numerous threats from “the bad guys,” as he referred to the terrorist gangs.

When we finally met on the opening day of the 2008 RSNA meeting, Ahmad saw my long list of questions and said he would need some time to think about his answers. After spending three hours with him and fellow Iraqi radiologist Dr. Mustafa Saleh Al-Matar, from Basra, in the newsroom on the following day, I could understand why he had to be so careful with his replies. The issues are complex, and the atmosphere within hospitals remains very tense and highly charged. Staff literally put their own lives, and those of their families, on the line every day.

You can read about the work of radiologists in Iraq in this issue of Diagnostic Imaging Europe. They have had to become particularly adept at dealing with a wide range of trauma cases using limited resources, and at working under extreme pressure and keeping calm in a crisis.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect, however, is the continued sense of isolation felt by Iraqi radiologists. They do not have PACS or teleradiology, and many of them lack a high-speed Internet connection. The American College of Radiology and the RSNA have adopted a plan to help rebuild radiology in Iraq, but there are still very few training and education opportunities. And it will require a major investment and immense political will over a long period of time to bring hospitals up to date, restore order, and ensure the competence of staff.

In spite of their isolated and dangerfilled lives, Ahmad, Mustafa, and others remain amazingly upbeat and positive. They deserve the support of the global radiological community. If you wish to make contact, please e-mail Ahmad directly at ahmadalshamssie@yahoo.com or contact me at philipward1@btconnect.com.