U.S. Project Brings Information Technology to Iraq
Includes contributions of computerized medical
By Kathryn McConnell
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- Through an innovative public-private partnership,
the State Department is helping to bring modern information technology
(IT) to the people of Iraq.
One of the project's first accomplishments was the recent delivery
of four medical databases on CD-ROM and networked computers to
four key medical institutions in Baghdad, the first healthcare
aid project in post-war Iraq, according to Gary Selnow, executive
director of WiRED International, one of the project's partners
who went to Iraq.
The facilities -- three teaching hospitals and a spinal cord treatment
center -- have lacked modern medical information resources for
decades, said Jim Mollen, director of State's U.S. Global Technology
Corps (USGTC), who also traveled to the country.
The first information center was officially launched in late June,
Mollen said. Immediately after the launching ceremony, excited
physicians sat down to use the new computer resources, Selnow added.
The project's next phase is to bring computer-based medical resources
to other regions of Iraq, Mollen said. Additionally, as infrastructure
improves, the computer networks will be connected to the Internet,
Future phases also will bring IT equipment and training to youth
and higher education centers, Mollen said. In focusing on youth,
he said, "We may be facing a unique window of opportunity to have
a meaningful impact on Iraqi society for decades to come." The
Ba'ath Party used the country's youth centers as major propaganda
tools, he said.
"Moving quickly is important in post-war development," Selnow
The "medical information centers" of six or more workstations
per site offer comprehensive "e-libraries" of approximately 110
CDs containing information compiled from government sources, universities,
pharmaceutical companies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
The core database was first used in recent years in Central Europe
and Africa and will be periodically updated, Selnow said. The computer
systems are equipped with special batteries that allow the machines
to safely turn off if the local electricity supply is interrupted,
"This project will meet the [Iraqi] medical community's information
needs with speed and substance. During the past several decades,
professionals staffing the Iraqi health care system and medical
students at all levels of study have been denied unfettered access
to information about health care developments widely available
in open societies," Selnow said.
"In addition to the infusion of information that will contribute
to a rapid improvement of health care in Iraq, this project will
demonstrate the generosity and good will of Americans and offer
a tangible display of our abiding concern for the Iraqi people," he
Selnow also provided training to the Iraqis who will staff the
medical information centers and set up a project monitoring system.
The centers are in physically-secure rooms, he said.
Additionally, the team delivered satellite broadcast radios to
the ministries of Youth and Higher Education and to the Iraq Media
Network, successor to the former Ministry of Information. The radios
give the reformed ministries access to world news outlets the Ba'ath
Party had banned such as BBC, Mollen said. They also will be able
to access Radio Sawa, the new U.S.-sponsored Arabic-language station
targeting youth audiences.
"The goal of the USGTC is to recruit skilled Americans to serve
in a voluntary capacity to implement, develop and foster information
technology in developing and emerging nations in a manner that
encourages the free flow of information," Mollen said.
Mollen and Selnow said they hope other agencies of the federal
government -- such as the Department of Health and Human Services
and U.S Agency for International Development -- will be interested
in providing funding for future phases.
USGTC is a program of the Bureau of International Information