We noticed you're blocking ads.

Keep supporting great journalism by turning off your ad blocker.

Questions about why you are seeing this? Contact us

Font Size

- Aa +

Tue 19 Feb 2008 12:57 AM

Font Size

- Aa +

Iraqi doctor refuses to join brain drain

Country's last remaining neurosurgeon vows to stand his ground despite escalating threat from insurgents.

While many Iraqi professionals take advantage of the "brain drain" robbing the war-ravaged country of its best talent, one man has vowed to stand his ground and care for the brains that remain.

With little money but a great deal of passion, Munir Faraj, 40, is the last remaining neurosurgeon still working amid the chaos and sectarian barbarism that grips modern-day Iraq.

"It is a matter of challenge," explained the diminutive surgeon, his sharp eyes half-hidden behind his glasses, "We are the only team in the world that works in these conditions".

Since the March 2003 US-led invasion, Faraj, who studied in Baghdad, has battled to get the ransacked hospital back on track.

He has never been afraid to get his hands dirty and has done whatever it took to keep the facility running: clearing away debris, repairing broken machinery, even exercising his diplomatic skills to secure the necessary support to keep the project running.

He has been subjected to anonymous threats and was even forced to flee to Syria for four months with his wife and two children, before returning a year ago to continue his work.

The doctors who make up his team are considered highly prized targets for insurgents, keen to deprive communities of the key figures needed to keep a society turning over.

In his hospital tucked away in the midst of sprawling countryside, north of Baghdad, the doctor knows that he and his little team could secure lucrative salaries if they were to leave their war-torn homeland.

"I love my job and I feel that if I go abroad, I will not have the chance to perform these kind of operations," he said.

"I want to stay in Iraq and I am proud to be an Iraqi," he added as he prepared for a delicate 10-hour operation to implant two tiny electrodes in the brain of a man suffering from Parkinson's disease.

Dressed in green overalls, his face hidden by a mask, the surgeon, who divides his time between the Neurology Hospital and his private surgery in the heart of the capital, carefully explained the procedure to his patient.

Ather Shalam, 46, sat in a wheelchair wearing blue striped pyjamas, and listened intently, his hands shaking uncontrollably due to his condition.

Frail and with his face looking tired and drawn beneath his shaven scalp, Ather was not ashamed to admit he was nervous ahead of the operation. He whispered simply, "I am frightened".

The surgeon's voice was soft but his gestures were firm, almost brutal, as he screwed his patient's head into a frame that would keep it still during the first stage of the operation - an MRI scan of his brain.

The apparatus uses a very weak resolution and Faraj struggled trying to improve the results. "Iraqi resourcefulness," he laughed.

He dreams of one day managing to scrape together the three million dollars needed to upgrade the machine. That would allow him to use a specially designed scalpel, bought in 2003, which uses gamma rays to treat brain tumours.

After the affected cells in Ather's brain were identified, the operation began in earnest, with Faraj drilling a hole in the side of his patient's skull.

Ather was given a local anaesthetic and was awake throughout most of the operation.

"The brain is senseless. The brain is responsible for sensation in all the body, except for the brain itself," explained the surgeon.

Millimetre by millimetre, five micro electrodes were placed on each side of the brain to mark as accurately as possible the location of the final implants.

"It is a very complicated procedure, highly technical. Few places in the region offer this service," he said, adding that at his hospital, the treatment is free.

"Once the electrodes are planted, they will be connected to a device in the patient's chest," added the surgeon".

"We are ready," he tells Ather, whose eyes are brimming with fear.

The day after the operation, Faraj contacted AFP to explain how the treatment went.

"Thank goodness the operation was completed successfully on the same day. It took 10 hours to finish," he said.

Despite his initial nerves, Ather appeared to have relaxed during the mammoth operation, at one stage asking staff if someone could fetch him a Pepsi.

Arabian Business: why we're going behind a paywall

For all the latest health tips & news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
razdan 12 years ago

Salut to Dr Munir Faraj for being responsible and following the ethics of the Medical Profession, to serve the humanity. Dr Faraj makes a valid point. War-affected-countries and developing countries are where they need expert doctors. If doctors keep moving to other regions where medical technology is at the prime, what would the people in the developing countries do? Bravo Dr,keep up the good spirits. May allah bless showerings on you and your family.

mariam kim 12 years ago

Ya Allah shower Dr Faraj with rahma and ajar.Ameen. Bravo ya dr.. your doing an amazing job for the people. This artical has brought tears flooding to my eyes, my own mother suffers from parkinsons disease and the days of seeing her so ill & shaking were brought back to me in reading about the patient before his surgery. I wish for this man a speedy and full recovery. There are a few good men left in this world who would stand their ground in such conditions and offer such services for free when there is an oppertunity in another land that would fill a mans pockets with money. I'm sure many people who hear of Dr Faraj will agree with me in saying " He deserves a medal" jazakilah khair wa barak Allah feek Dr. Ameen Hiyyakum Allah.