Saturday, July 03, 2004

The Cost of War, Vol. 357

International aid workers also living with the aftermath: Link.

With pillows propped against the wall, a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling and comfort food--usually a local trail mix--in the middle, each of them shared stories of what they had seen and heard that day while delivering medical services to people in need. Then they had to decide if it was worth the risk to go out again the following day.

"Things were changing in Afghanistan, and we had to make decisions day to day. . . . There is a price for going out, but there is a bigger price for not going because so many patients are depending on you," said Reilley, an epidemiologist who spent October and November in Afghanistan and works as a program officer for Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres in New York.

While the military has made some strides in dealing with stress-related issues, public health officials, including doctors at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, are just beginning to address the mental health problems of aid workers. After recent attacks on workers in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is a need for support services in the field and at home, health officials said.

"In the last five to 10 years, our work has . . . become much more dangerous," said Dr. Barbara Lopes Cardozo, a psychiatrist and epidemiologist with the CDC. "In the last few years, situations like Iraq and Afghanistan have become very volatile.

Obviously, unlike the soldiers, these people chose to go to Iraq and Afghanistan. But they went out of a desire to help improve the situations of people in those countries, and our screwups in both these wars have affected them, too.