By Lance Plyler, MD
Medical Director, Samaritan’s Purse
Who would have thought that the Ebola epidemic of 2014 would lead us to Iraq in 2017? Ebola in Liberia—it was a war in and of itself, only a different form of a war. It was at a microscopic level with a deadly virus. We were pursuing an unseen enemy, so it really did, in many ways, prepare us for something like what we’re doing now—operating an emergency field hospital in a war zone in Northern Iraq. But now we see how God has paved the way for us to engage in such a response.
Samaritan’s Purse has had a presence in northern Iraq for six years now. We’ve been working there, and with the refugees leaving Mosul slowly, we’ve been able to meet some of their needs through an affiliation with the World Food Programme to distribute food, non-food items, and blankets and just trying to address all their needs.
With the continuing fighting in Mosul, we knew that more medical support was needed. The nearby city of Erbil was taking all the medical cases, but they were being overwhelmed. Initially, we sent out a mobile medical team to make an assessment. Then, Ken Isaacs, our vice president of programs and government relations, traveled there and met with World Health Organization (WHO) officials, who didn’t even realize that we had this kind of capacity.
I’ve been with Samaritan’s Purse five years now, and to reflect on where we were five years ago … I mean, there’s no way we could have engaged in this kind of medical intervention five years ago. But we’ve taken steps along the way, and God’s prepared us. Certainly 2014—with our response in Liberia and the fight against Ebola—that prepared us tremendously for this opportunity to serve the people of Iraq. In December 2016, we made a six-month commitment to operate a tier-two hospital with a 40-bed capacity, two surgical theaters, and an emergency room, all comprising a sophisticated emergency field hospital. Right now, we’re working very hard to find adequate personnel to staff the hospital.
Looking back on Ebola, it was an incredible experience for us to glean the kind of skills and protocols that we need to respond in a war-torn country like Iraq. A number of the medical professionals working with us in Iraq also served with us in Liberia. They’re coming with their experience from that response and applying it to the situation now. Again, they’re putting their lives at risk to provide life-saving services and we’re blessed to partner with them again. It’s an honor to see them on the front lines of ministry.
And just like Ebola, Iraq is a situation that we’ll have to rely on our faith very heavily to respond and be over there.