MPH Graduate Returns to Iraq with Dreams for the Future

Ghalib Al-Jibara was a medical school student at Baghdad Teaching Hospital at the start of the U.S invasion of Iraq in 2003. He volunteered to work in the hospital’s emergency room when the war broke out, knowing the ER would need extra hands. But with security in Baghdad deteriorating by the day, Al-Jibara and his colleagues were forced to abandon the hospital. It was not until after the Iraqi government fell in April 2003 that the hospital re-opened and Al-Jibara could resume his training. He graduated with honors with a medical degree in 2004.

Today, Al-Jibara is a graduating International Community Public Health, MPH candidate at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. Returning to Baghdad following graduation, Al-Jibara will oversee the creation of a new public health research center, the first of its kind in Iraq.

Al-Jibara came to NYU Steinhardt in 2007 after receiving a Fulbright scholarship. Following the insurgency, security in Baghdad made it difficult for doctors and nurses to do their jobs. The rising sectarian violence, lack of medical supplies, and threats of kidnapping from militia contributed to a rapidly deteriorating health care system. Al-Jibara was forced to follow a different route to work each day, to thwart potential kidnappers. Curfew kept residents inside their homes from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

“It was a terrible era,” said Al-Jibara. “Safe water supply, sanitation, power supply, lack of vaccines, pollution – all worsened to a great extent because of poor security.”

Knowing that Iraq would soon confront numerous public health crises, Al-Jibara pursued the MPH degree so he could advance public health practice in his native country. His goal is to advance health care in Baghdad, especially mental health issues faced by children and adolescents following the war and insurgency.

“Thank God, the situation in Baghdad is much better now,” Al-Jibara said. He keeps in close contact with family members in Baghdad, including his brother and sister who are currently in college there. Although many challenges remain, he says, the curfew has been lifted and security is much better in the city.

Al-Jibara admits spending two years apart from his family was very difficult, but that “the activities and atmosphere at NYU really helped me cope. The way NYU puts students together to do group projects, workshops and field work makes you feel that you do have a second family here.”

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