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From Baghdad to Rochester, International Fellowships Change Lives

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From Baghdad to Rochester, International Fellowships Change Lives

Dr. Karim Muftin Al Zadawi is the Chief Physician Director at Iraq’s Communicable Disease Center and was a 2014-2015 CRDF Global Iraq fellow. We recently reached out to Dr. Al Zadawi to see how his CRDF Global fellowship has helped him improve public health in Iraq. These are his words.

Dr. Al Zadawi giving a lecture on the transmission of disease from animals to humans in Iraq.

For the past few decades, conflict, sanctions, war, lack of funding, and poor allocation of resources have significantly affected the recovery of Iraq’s internal infrastructure and key government functions. This is especially true for the Iraqi Ministry of Health and its Communicable Diseases Center (CDC). Lack of funding and support for the center has had a profoundly negative impact on public health in Iraq. In the face of these challenges, Iraqi medical staff and health workers do their best to fight and prevent communicable diseases, but for many, including myself, it often feels like an uphill battle.

As the Chief Physician Director of the Iraq CDC, I understood that something needed to be done to rebuild Iraq’s capacity to defend against deadly diseases. For this reason, I applied for the CRDF Global’s Iraq Fellowship Program. When I found out that CRDF Global had awarded me a fellowship position, I felt honored and was eager to join other Iraqi scientists, doctors, and researchers who had previously benefited from this program.

My fellowship began when I arrived in New York at the University of Rochester. Although the cold and snow of the state was foreign to me, I was welcomed warmly by my host, Dr. Luis Martinez-Sobrido. Together, we researched the molecular biology of model viral techniques for studying hemorrhagic fever and other techniques for safely studying Vesicular Stomatitis Virus, influenza viruses, and arenaviruses. Hemorrhagic Fever outbreaks typically have high mortality rates and the viruses causing them are difficult to study due to their high pathogenicity. Throughout my time at the University of Rochester, I not only had the opportunity to learn more about how to safely detect and treat these diseases that are prevalent in Iraq, but also to significantly improve my research skills and knowledge of laboratory management and best practices.

After the conclusion of my fellowship, I returned to Iraq where I immediately applied the insights and knowledge I gained from my time in the U.S. to my work. Drawing upon the experiences of my fellowship, I began conducting training courses on biosafety, biosecurity, and diagnostic skills for medical and laboratory staff at the CDC, which has helped make our labs safer, more efficient, and more reliable. More importantly, during a time when resources for scientific and medical research within Iraq are strained, these courses have helped us to more accurately diagnose communicable diseases, which is a key component to controlling potential outbreaks.

Though my fellowship is over, its impact is recognized not only by myself, but by those who conduct research at the CDC. This fellowship helped me grow professionally, and in turn contribute directly to the growth of others and Iraq’s ability to combat communicable diseases. Put simply, this was one of the best fellowships I have ever experienced.

Editor’s Note:

Dr. Al Zadawi is continuing his fight against infectious disease in Iraq. He serves a trainer with Metabiota and is developing a zoonotic disease map of Iraq with The George Washington University. With assistance from a CRDF Global Graduate Scientist Grant, he is working on a team studying new ways to detect and treat leishmaniasis in Iraq’s Thiqar province. Leishmaniasis, a potentially fatal parasitic infection, is widespread across Iraq and the Middle East.

About CRDF Global Fellowships

The potential to help solve the world’s most pressing challenges lies largely with the thousands of talented scientists, engineers, and innovators around the world. Through our fellowship programs, we connect scientists and innovators from emerging countries and underrepresented communities with opportunities to study, research, and work alongside colleagues and leaders in their fields. Learn More about fellowships at CRDF Global.